Special Events

Calculating Capitalism

Friday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Among the most striking trends charted in the humanities in recent years has been the remarkable investment made in trying to understand modern capitalism. This conference seeks to profit from that boom by bringing together a range of scholars from the various disciplines that have developed novel methods for studying economic life: history, sociology, anthropology, science and technology studies, literary studies, as well as economics, accounting, and business studies. Organizing the conference will be the theme of calculation. Participants are invited to present papers that examine the place of computations, computational technologies, and the individuals who carry them out within the activities of capitalism. “Calculation” is understood expansively, encompassing a wide range of technicality, from the rudiments of commercial accounting to the most intricate algorithms of current quantitative finance. Economic calculation might be found in many places: the budgeting practices of the family, the capital expenditure decisions of the corporate manager, the investment theses of the financier, the theoretical models of the academic economist, the public accounts of the state. It is hoped that examples will be drawn from a wide range of geographies and time periods, from the early-modern period to the present day.

Participants are particularly encouraged to reflect on how calculations encode the values—economic but also moral, political, and epistemological—of capitalism. How have particular calculations shaped (and continue to shape) market activities, as well as the regulations that govern them and the ethical expectations to which they are held? What cultural, social, and historical factors have been most important in shaping capitalism’s essential calculations? What calculations have come to define what qualifies as rational economic behavior, for individuals, firms, or governments? How have calculations come to measure political-economic success, whether for a credit-seeking individual, a corporate CEO, or a “developing” nation? What role have calculations served in reconciling or exacerbating the political tensions produced by capitalism? Have calculations promoted economic accessibility, both in the sense of facilitating commercial and governmental transparency and in making business activities open to a greater number of people? What role do scholars, particularly those adopting humanistic and qualitative methods, have to play in shaping our economy’s quantitative future?

This event is free and open to the public. Seating is first come, first served.

Please note: Seating is limited for this event.