Karen Ho's father was a doctor who immigrated from Taiwan. She grew up outside Memphis and earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Stanford University and got her PhD in anthropology from Princeton University.
Ho’s interest in Wall Street culture begun a year after she arrived at Princeton, after the 1995 AT&T restructuring which resulted in 40,000 layoffs but despite all the company’s share price soared. Ho discovered that Wall Street culture values "smartness" above all other attributes - and while smartness may be hard to define, a Princeton or Harvard diploma provides a good substitute. From the Wall Street perspective, "smartness" also entails both aggressiveness and a willingness to work 110-hour weeks — working from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. every single day, and sleeping under their desks.
She is currently a professor at the University of Minnesota.
Ho worked among the investment bankers of Lower Manhattan so she could observe them in their native habitat, similarly to how Margaret Mead studied the cannibal tribes of New Guinea. Based on her observations, Wall Street bankers have been compared to cannibals "(...)wanting to book as many deals as possible for short-term bonuses, a workplace structured so that they're knowingly not there for very long", except with better suits.
- 2009: "Disciplining Investment Bankers, Disciplining the Economy: Wall Street’s Institutional Culture of Crisis and the Downsizing of American Corporations." American Anthropologist, Vol. 111, No. 2.
- 2009: Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Duke University Press.
- 2005: Situating Global Capitalisms: A View from Wall Street Investment Banks. Cultural Anthropology 20(1): 68-96.
- An Anthropologist on What's Wrong with Wall Street, Time, July 22, 2009
- Margaret Mead meets Morgan Stanley, Princeton Alumni Weekly, September 23, 2009