On the Genealogy of Economic Reason
- Author(s): Goux, Hippolyte
- Advisor(s): Porter, Theodore
- et al.
This dissertation is a contribution to a materialist history of economic thought. Rather than present the history of economic ideas as the discovery of an abstract and eternal economic reason, it demonstrates how economic reason emerged from the particular contradictions in the production and reproduction of societies. The aim is to interrogate the concept of the economic itself by situating it in specific social, material, and political settings. How can we explain the metamorphoses of political economy in the modern period? Why was this intellectual tradition replaced by a science representing the economic in quantitative and mathematical terms? Why did quantification become so central to the functioning of the modern state in the first place? How did a certain economic change come to appear historically necessary, in the sense of inevitable? The basis for a radical reinterpretation: the economic was associated with the use of quantification as a way to express relations of necessity about economic matters. The dissertation juxtaposes political, scholarly, and administrative sources, drawing mainly from cases in Europe and the United States of America from 1789 to 1975. What emerges is a genealogy of a new kind of way for thinking about, and administering, the social and natural world. Economists produced the now-familiar representations of economic life not because of an inherently scientific drive towards modeling or idealization, but as tools that worked to tame subjectivity in policy-making. These representations were materialized—given real efficacy—through the paper technologies, calculations, and institutions of the modern state, and they provided the conditions of possibility for the categories of modern political reason. The philosopher Michel Foucault famously argued that the organizing principle of modern “liberal” society was expressed by Bentham’s panopticon. Developing a critical and systematic counterpoise to this view, this dissertation proposes the figure of the “aeolian harp” as a more pertinent metaphor for the politics of capitalist liberalism.