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The organization of responsiveness: innovation and recovery in the trading rooms of Lower Manhattan

By Daniel Beunza and David Stark


What is the organizational basis of responsiveness under conditions of crisis? In this essay we examine a trading room that was damaged in the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. What did the crisis reveal about the social practices and the technological tools of trading? Drawing on ethnographic field research prior to September 11th, we show how the heterarchical (as opposed to hierarchical) organization of the trading room contributed to innovation on an ongoing basis. Drawing on our subsequent observations in the relocated trading room and focus group discussions with executives in other World Trade Center financial firms, we show that similarly heterarchical features contributed to innovation in response to crisis. Under conditions of radical uncertainty, one cannot know in advance what resources one will need, or even know in advance what might be a resource. Laterally distributed intelligence and a tolerance of multiple registers of valuation and interaction provide generative structures of resourcefulness where the replicative redundancy of contingency planning confronts its limits. We conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of our findings on innovation, location and responsiveness for the changing urban geography of finance and the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan

Topics: HC Economic History and Conditions, HG Finance
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2003
DOI identifier: 10.1093/soceco
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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