GSE Faculty Research

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

August 2007


A two-year ethnographic study examines how two U.S. investment banks managed bankers' uncertainty differently and achieved distinct forms of participant transformation, including listening outcomes. People Bank reduced uncertainty by conveying abstract concepts. Socialized bankers exhibited a preferential orientation toward abstractions, including their own identities, and often failed to listen to and use concrete cues for action. To highlight situational uniqueness, Organization Bank amplified uncertainty. Since situational demands thus exceeded what the bankers knew and appeared too complex to be forced into pre-existing categories and scripts, bankers could not resort to abstractions. Over time, bankers' initial preoccupation with abstractions was cleared away, enabling them to more effectively listen and use situational cues. We develop the notion of direct involvement to explain this transformation away from self-involvement and toward heightened situational sensitivity.


Postprint version. Published in Learning Inquiry, Volume 1, Issue 2, August 2007, pages 89-97.
Publisher URL:


listening, identity, uncertainty, cognition, transformation



Date Posted: 07 May 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.