Based on 16 months fieldwork inside the China arm of a leading global management consultancy, this paper examines the conceptualization and performance of management consulting expertise. A central figure of financialization, management consultants are often depicted as experts who preach the standardization of organizational practice, as exemplified by the trope of ‘best practice’. Seeking to unpack this now ubiquitous term, I show how management consultancy also entails the development of a vernacular ethics of expertise. Chinese management consultants tasked with improving corporate efficiency in the name of creating shareholder value see themselves as stewards tasked with making China into a “paradise” (tiantang), a term which evokes not only the specter of economic development, but also past indictments to contribute to the collective and the nation. I argue, furthermore, that the inclusion of post-Mao tropes of modernity is not just a cynical attempt to localize consultancy, but rather intrinsic to the explication and performance of consulting expertise. 

Kimberly Chong is Lecturer in Anthropology at University College London. Her research expertise covers financialization and the anthropology of finance, economic and political subjectivities, commensuration and techniques of valuation, corporate ethicizing, economic decision-making, and epistemologies of economics. Her first monograph, Best Practice: Management Consulting and the Ethics of Financialization in China, was published by Duke University Press in 2018. She holds a BA in Economics and Sociology from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics, and a PhD in Anthropology from the London School of Economics.

This seminar is co-arranged by the Forum for Asian Studies and SCORE, Stockholm University.