What about failure?
When I was writing my article on entrepreneurship in Egypt (Peterson 2010), which I heavily cannibalized for Chapter Six of Connected in Cairo, one of the things in which I was particularly interested in was failure.
One of my key points was that when US companies fail at home, that’s just business. But when they fail while doing business in Egypt or comment on the failures of Egyptian entrepreneurs–and I suspect this holds in many countries–they blame it on the local “culture.” Egyptian business failure is blamed on a supposed poor work ethic, on institutions like wasta, and on a presumed “lack of entrepreneurial imagination.”
When I sought to contextualize the discourse of these businessmen with some general statistical data, I was shocked to find almost nothing on business failures.
Obviously all businesses dies sometime, and every entrepreneurial adventure is by definition a risk, yet there was not only no theoretical literature on entreprenuerial failure, there were no statistics. And none on business failures generally.
Well now there is (thanks in part to another anthropologist). It turns out the average publicly traded company in the US lasts only ten years.
The Life Span of Companies
Even more interesting, the interdisciplinary team of two physicists, an anthropologist and an economist at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico discovered that companies die off at roughly the same rate regardless of size, what kinds of products or services they produce, how long they have been in business, or how well-established they are.
This finding runs counter to the few theories that exist in business literature, which either assume that newer, less established companies are more vulnerable, or that more established, less flexible companies are more vulnerable.
Causes of death include:
Aalborg, September 28-29, 2015
Ten years have gone since the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten decided to publish 12 Muhammad cartoons of the prophet Muhammad as cartoonists ‘imagined him’.
The cartoons and the stories about them led to violence that cost the lives of 150 people. Denmark’s reputation abroad and export to Arab speaking countries were severely impacted.
In addition, the publication of the cartoons and the events following have affected the opportunities of immigrants, who experience being stigmatized and not fully allowed to be Danes. Many Danes have had their ideas of womanhood among Muslims re-enforced, ideas of incompatible values have been strengthened, and the debate about freedom of speech reified.
For many non-Western Muslims, the cartoon story has become an icon of Western arrogance and hatred towards Islam. Their anger came from a deep sense that they are not respected, that they and their most cherished feelings are “fair game.”
New research suggest that increased racial discrimination and enforcement of racial-cultural logics of belonging facilitates mobilization of minority youth groups to crime, violence, political activism, carelessness and terrorism. This development exposes a “schismogenetic” process that merits academic attention analysis and solutions.
Some of the questions for the conference:
“From Arab Spring to Arab Winter” is the title of a special issue of the journal Democratization. Edited by Raymond Hinnebusch, an amazingly prolific international relations professor at the University of St. Andrews, it seeks to examine why democratization has largely failed in the wake of the prodemocratic uprisings, and what patterns can be elicited from the similarities and differences in outcomes from the many Arab Spring protests.
None of the articles focus exclusively on Egypt, but many refer to her in some detail, or make points especially relevant to Egypt’s situation.
This is very much Hinnebusch’s project: he offers an extraordinary synthetic model for looking at the post-uprising phases of the Arab Spring in his introduction, writes an essay comparing Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, and writes an extensive conclusion. Some of the authors are or were his students.
Here are the papers that touch on Egypt:
Hinnebusch, Raymond. 2015. Introduction: understanding the consequences of the Arab uprisings – starting points and divergent trajectories. Democratization 22(2): 205-217.
This introduction sets the context for the following articles by first conceptualizing the divergent post-uprising trajectories taken by varying states: these are distinguished first by whether state capacity collapses or persists, and if it persists, whether the outcome is a hybrid regime or polyarchy. It then assesses how far starting points – the features of the regime and of the uprising – explain these pathways. Specifically, the varying levels of anti-regime mobilization, explained by factors such as levels of grievances, patterns of cleavages, and opportunity structure, determine whether rulers are quickly removed or stalemate sets in. Additionally, the ability of regime and opposition softliners to reach a transition pact greatly shapes democratic prospects. But, also important is the capacity – coercive and co-optative – of the authoritarian rulers to resist, itself a function of factors such as the balance between the patrimonial and bureaucratic features of neo-patrimonial regimes.
Democratization theory–a continually developing effort to understand the stages of transformation of nondemocratic states to democracy–has not proved successful in analyzing Egypt’s political revolution because Egypt has certainly not become a democracy, nor is it clearly in any of the stages typically predicted by this theory.
On the other hand, writes Ray Hinnebusch in the most recent issue of the journal Democratization, neither has there been a uniform restoration of authoritarianism, as would be predicted by what he calls “postdemocracy theory.”
Instead, he states, in his article “Introduction: understanding the consequences of the Arab uprisings – starting points and divergent trajectories,” Hinnebusch argues that following the Arab Spring we find either state collapse–which leads to what he calls “competitive state making,” or state persistence, which leads either to “hybrid regimes” or “polyarchies.”
By state collapse, of course, he means states like Syria, Yemen and Libya, in which democratic uprisings so weakened the state that it collapsed or nearly collapsed, and “democratic prospects appear to be foreclosed for the near future.”
Competitive regime making occurs in collapsed states as Islamic groups, charismatic (and patrimonial) leaders, and the “remnants of bureaucratic state institutions vie to create order out of chaos.
States that do not collapse (like Egypt), Hinnebusch writes, fall into one of two other conditions:
The latest issue of the on-line journal Arab Media and Society, published by the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism at the American University in Cairo, has a slew of essays (five of six) on media in Egypt.
One is analytical–a look at international press coverage of Morsi’s ouster. The other four are essays offering bleak and bleaker outlooks on the future of Egyptian media.
The mildest is an account of the failure of Egypt to keep up with translation technology in the modern era. The bleakest sees all media in the Arab world as essentially under the control of the power and money elites–the digital dream is dead.
Here’s a quick round-up:
As more and more people get their news from digital media, including social media, many question the reliability of these new sources of news, as opposed to newspapers and television news. Are truth and verifiability disappearing from the news and, if so, does it matter?
I addressed this during a public lecture recently at the University of Cincinnati entitled “Toward an Anthropology of New Media.”
I suggested that there were at least five crucial problems facing scholarship on new media, and described what I saw as anthropology’s contributions to dealing with these problems.
During the Question and Answer period after the talk, an archaeology colleague asked me about whether one of the biggest problems with new media wasn’t the inability of news consumers to verify, and thus rely on, the news they read in their myriad on-line sources.
First, there is very little evidence that people ever verify the news. Rather, they tend to decide whether or not the news is true and reliable, based on
- Their relationship to the news source (whether the news is expressed in language they find reassuring, whether or not it is one they visit frequently, how long they have received their news from that source, etc.), and
- The degree to which the news agrees with what they already know (i.e. believe) to be true.