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Title: The political economy of eighteenth-century insects : natural history and political economy in France, 1700-1789
Author: Wallmann, Elisabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 7224 4311
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2017
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This dissertation argues that insects provided a crucial lens through which Enlightenment thinkers could reimagine and represent their societies. It demomstrates that the understanding of the functioning of their individual bodies, the close observation of their collective behaviour, and its manipulation and management, helped eighteenth-century scholars to conceptualise, and root in nature, their social orders and the changes that they wished to see in them. While insect collectives such as bee swarms or ant colonies that had long been used to metaphorically model human societies, in the eighteenth century, these metaphors were reformulated and given an empirical basis. Investigating writings on insects on the part of natural historians, agronomists, philosophes and physicians, the thesis contributes to the growing literature on the role of animals in human history in general and in the Enlightenment in particular. It builds on two scholarly traditions: French studies and the cultural history of scientific, economic and political knowledge (mainly written after the 1980s). I take from French studies methods for the close reading of texts and more recent ideas on how ‘to bridge’ different fields of knowledge; the latter discipline will be useful in providing ideas about the history of observation and experimentation, theories of the animal and human body as well as eighteenth-century understanding of political economy. As this dissertation demonstrates, insects helped conceptualise new ideas of the human individual and his or her passions (chapters 1 and 2), of how human collectives are formed (chapter 3) and how governments can manipulate and regulate them in the most profitable ways possible (chapters 4 and 5). By investigating Enlightenment writings on insects, this thesis shows, we can recover part of the rich history of our modern understanding of our own ways of living together.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PQ Romance literatures