Call for Papers: “Business Practices, Commercial Selves, and the Moral Marketplace in Nineteenth-century France”
Graduate Student Conference, May 18th-19th 2007, University of Chicago
Keynote Speaker: Professor Lisa Tiersten, Barnard College
Whether or not George W. Bush actually remarked that the problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur, the opinion of French business culture contained within has been more or less shared by generations of scholars who have depicted French commercial life as risk-averse and fundamentally resistant to the “creative destruction” of capitalism. Yet even as the past thirty years of scholarship on economic production has shaken time-honored beliefs concerning France’s delayed industrialization and economic modernization, and the rise of consumption studies has highlighted the role of demand and desire in the spread of capitalism, no body of literature has yet emerged to examine nineteenth-century French business culture with the same skeptical eye towards received ideas. Indeed, since David Landes’s articles on entrepreneurship in the 1950s and 1960s, Anglophone scholarship has been largely silent on the norms and values which sustained and generated specific practices – as well as specific selfhoods – in French commerce during the transition to modern capitalism. This contrasts sharply with the rich historiographic interest in business culture that exists for England and America, and provides compelling insight into the social construction of their middle classes, urban spaces, gender and racial difference, as well as the evolution of their political cultures.
This workshop inquires into these commercial practices and selfhoods, seeking to reevaluate the place of commerce and the commercial actor in 19th century French cultural, political and social life. What were the norms and cultural values associated with commercial activity, defining legitimate commercial behaviour? What attitudes governed practices related to lending, borrowing, speculating and investing? What meaning or meanings were given to property and how did such meanings change during the course of the century? What place, if any, did the market have in constructing civic identity? What types of social networks were formed through business activity? What legislative and judicial parameters were put in place to condone, foster, and alter commercial activity? Overall, our conference will seek to address how a careful examination of the practice of commerce sheds light on the intersection between production and consumption in nineteenth-century French economic history.
Specific topics to be addressed may include, but are not limited to, the following:
corporate scandal and ideas about corporate responsibility
the democratization of stock ownership and debates over investment and speculation
attitudes towards risk and the development of insurance
banking and the spread of credit institutions
the social and cultural landscape of commercial debt (bankruptcy, imprisonment, auctions)
the intersection of religion and the marketplace (usury, religious tourism, anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism)
spaces of commercial activity and constructing the commercial city
the development and transformation of commercial agents and their representations (the businessman, the bankrupt, the speculator)
the gender of commerce
Please send individual proposals to the conference co-organizers: Alexia Yates (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Erika Vause (email@example.com). Application deadline is February 15th, 2007. Proposals should include a one-page, double-spaced abstract of the work to be presented, as well as a CV. Successful applicants will receive notification within four weeks after the application deadline.
University of Chicago, Department of History
1126 East 59th Street, Chicago IL Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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