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What Do Traders in Emerging Markets Want? Just Ask Them

Traders and investors monitoring stock prices at RHB Investment Bank in Kuala Lumpur
Traders and investors monitoring stock prices at RHB Investment Bank in Kuala LumpurPhotograph by Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

It was not hard to distinguish the sociologists from the financiers. The sociologists had beards. On Friday, in a hall above the New York Stock Exchange where mayors and capitalists once ate breakfast together, about 50 academics gathered to discuss the sociology of market microstructure, or why financiers do what they do.

For the last 70 years, we have looked to economists to explain how markets work. The kind of economics popular among graduate programs has focused on what academics call “quantitative” data, which you might call “numbers.” Other social sciences have been left with “qualitative” data, or “talking to people.” Sociologists, with their tradition of interviews and ethnographic studies, know how to talk to people. I was told once (by an economist) that the quickest way to offend an economist is to call him a sociologist. Both disciplines, though, poke at the same problem: How do people make decisions?