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Sue Benson Prize for Best Part IIB Dissertation 2016

last modified Jul 06, 2016 05:01 PM

Winner: Theodore Park (King’s College)

Kings College Chapel

Every year, the division awards a prize of £200 to the most outstanding IIB dissertation. The prize is named in memory of Dr Sue Benson (1955-2005), an anthropologist who lectured, supervised and directed studies in Cambridge for 26 years and was an inspiration both personally and intellectually for generations of students.

We are pleased to announce the winner for this year’s Sue Benson prize is Theodore Park (King’s College) with his dissertation ‘An ethnography of uses of data in Financial Services Consulting Firms in London’.

Of his research and winning the prize, Theodore had the following words:

I am delighted to be awarded the Sue Benson Prize. Thanks must go to my supervisor, Professor James Laidlaw, whose patience and encouragement through numerous drafts of my dissertation helped me to refine my understanding of the subject. I am also grateful to my Director of Studies, Dr. Matei Candea, and the Department as a whole, who have contributed to my enjoyment and understanding of anthropology over the past three years.

My dissertation is about the topical issue of executive pay and arises out of my experience as a remuneration consultant for a major City firm. It focuses on the work of consultants who advise on pay. I start by setting out the best available explanations for rising executive pay and suggest that they lack a mechanism for the dissemination of information. Consultants provide just such a mechanism. To understand this, it is necessary to understand how data analysis and benchmarking are central to the performance of their role, and their own conception of it. Consultants use data to produce two key knowledge products - the report and the meeting - by means of which they organize and distribute knowledge. This is crystallised as information about ‘best practice’ and ‘market practice’, which often assist in the creation of market standards and their enforcement. This is not an uncontested process but often it takes a consensual form in which consultants balance the demands of their own professionalism, their clients’ interests, and the codes, guidelines or laws of relevant regulatory bodies. By refusing to count knowledge practices as involvement in the market, consultants are able to ignore the impact they have on it.However, once hiring consultants becomes established market practice, their professional dissemination of information has an effect on the trajectory of executive pay, be this upwards or downwards. Whilst consultants claim only to present and interpret the data, and therefore deny any active role in the ascent of executive pay, their role is crucial to it. Their professionalism and impartiality lead their clients to make decisions about the data which fuels the rate of remuneration. The consultants' claim to non-involvement ends up being an important aspect of their continued existence in the market.