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Title: Capitalism, the state and things : the port of London, circa 1730-1800
Author: Sweeting, Spike
ISNI:       0000 0004 5348 132X
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2014
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This dissertation examines the activities of the Bowood Set, a group of merchants, intellectuals and radicals centred on Lord Shelburne, and their struggle with the late-eighteenth-century port of London. Having read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, they were awakened to his idea of markets and, more pointedly, the existence of the mercantilist institutions that were inhibiting them. Their response was to use technologies like the Docks, pensions, policeman and insurance companies to physically reorder the Thames and break the monopoly of London’s trading companies on political and economic power. The Bowood Set were not always successful. However, their belief that technology and infrastructure could shift political and economic culture simultaneously opens up a series of questions about the type of ‘things’ underpinning both mercantilism and liberalism. Drawing on actor network theorists like Michel Callon and Bruno Latour, the notion that the economy and state are simply networks held together by artefacts is here used to suggest that political economy is a material culture and, moreover, one that shifted in the late-eighteenth century from something resembling mercantilism towards something that increasingly recognisable as liberalism. Examining the Shelburnite Sir William Musgrave’s attempt to fight corruption in the Customs in London and the role of the West India Merchants lobby in coordinating London’s Quays shows clearly that the bureaucratic structures they mobilised were effective in altering the information that fiscal and commercial decisions were based on. Networks which were previously held together by close-knit cultural ties of friendship, patronage or customary agreements became increasingly contractual and monetised around the port. However, this was not always the case. Two investigations of London’s micro-economies suggests that Smith’s faceless markets were retarded by the cultures of consumption across London, and warehousing in the City, which were both sectors that accustomed communities to certain commercial practices that were not easily dislodged. What Michel Callon calls ‘calculative agency’, or the capacity to make economic decisions, was unevenly distributed across London because of material, political or social considerations, and the market was not understood by contemporaries as detached from them. As a result, the political economy advocated by Adam Smith progressed slowly across different social groups, geographies and networks. Examining how his discourse progressed in tandem with bureaucratic and material ‘things’ shows markets to have been multifaceted and socially embedded but not incapable of being redirected. Conversely, it shows that technologies designed to break open mercantilist monopolies, like the Docks, could become entangled in the social and political institutions they were designed to overpower. Examining the Dock campaign through the lense of material and bureaucratic culture in the City, this dissertation concludes that Vaughan and his associates surely did have some impact on shifting mercantilist commercial practices, though their’s was far from an outright victory.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: DA Great Britain