Happy Book Birthday Songs of Profit, Songs of Loss

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a books life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Songs of Profit, Songs of Loss: Private Equity, Wealth, and Inequality (Nebraska, 2019) by Daniel Scott Souleles.

About the Book:

Since the early 1980s, private equity investors have heralded and shepherded massive changes in American capitalism. From outsourcing to excessive debt taking, private equity investment helped normalize once-taboo business strategies while growing into an over $3 trillion industry in control of thousands of companies and millions of workers. Daniel Scott Souleles opens a window into the rarefied world of private equity investing through ethnographic fieldwork on private equity financiers. Songs of Profit, Songs of Loss documents how and why investors buy, manage, and sell the companies that they do; presents the ins and outs of private equity deals, management, and valuation; and explains the historical context that gave rise to private equity and other forms of investor-led capitalism.

In addition to providing invaluable ethnographic insight, Songs of Profit, Songs of Loss is also an anthropological study of inequality as Souleles connects the core components of financial capitalism to economic disparities. Souleles uses local ideas of “value” and “time” to frame the ways private equity investors comprehend their work and to show how they justify the prosperity and poverty they create. Throughout, Souleles argues that understanding private equity investors as contrasted with others in society writ large is essential to fully understanding private equity within the larger context of capitalism in the United States.

Reviews and Interviews:

Songs of Profit, Songs of Loss addresses the recent financial catastrophe through a study of private equity companies. The sequence of argument follows the anthropologist’s journey as a field researcher in a movement made compelling by his jargon-free and fluent prose.”—Keith Hart, coauthor of Economic Anthropology: History, Ethnography, Critique

Author interview with Marketplace Morning Report.


A Word from the Author:

The highlight of publishing the book has been learning that it was adopted in an ethnographic methods seminar at Brandeis University. The students read the book in full and used it as well as other course material to plan out their own ethnographic projects. I was able to beam in via video chat and talk to the students about imagining their own projects and answering questions they had about my book.

What was particularly exciting for me was that my book was able to show them that anthropology could work even if you were studying people like financiers and private equity investors. There are creative methods you can use to get around not having a field site; and it’s OK to study at home. The students also were reassured that anthropology or academic writing didn’t need to be boring, and could be done in an entertaining way.

One final thing which was really satisfying for me—the students also took to hear the message that they should understand financial capitalism as structuring parts of their own lives. And, while this can be a bit uncomfortable, it can also give you grounds for critique and action.

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