David Thackeray, University of Exeter
Churchill College, Cambridge was the venue for our final Imagining Markets workshop and we had a range of papers which considered various facets of how national economic identities have been culturally imagined. Another theme discussed at length was how markets are subject to the influence of a variety of external forces, limiting the actions of the entrepreneur. Attention focused particularly on the role of inter-governmental organisations, including those connected with the League of Nations and UN, the actions of the state, the politics of the citizen-consumer, and the role of international co-operation and competition in both the context of imperialism and decolonisation.
Hao Gao considered the contested ways in which the Chinese market was understood by the competing interests of the East India Company and free traders in the 1830s. Debate centred on the supposed ‘otherness’ of Chinese culture and whether or not the nation was peopled by ‘a highly commercial people’ amenable to the principles of free trade. Often the rhetoric of these debates was based on limited engagement with the everyday practices of British trade with China at the time.
Anthony Howe discussed the politics of growing monopolies, restrictions and exclusions in world trade in the nineteenth century, a period which is, perhaps paradoxically, often characterised as one of increasing globalisation. The paper considered how the growth of imperial inter-governmental organisations fostered the growth of subsidies. Prof. Howe then discussed the ways in which the growth of international trade bodies after 1900 challenged the growth of such practices.
Stephen Tufnell explored the politics of ‘inter-imperialism’, considering how southern Africa acted as a ‘borderland’ for American traders in the late nineteenth century. The United States took a prominent role in the development of mining on the Rand and gained influence in Transvaal business networks. However, it also took advantage of competing sovereignties in the region, evading imperial tariffs through trading via Portugese East Africa or re-exporting goods via the UK.
Marc-William Palen discussed the connections between free trade and international feminist peace activism in the early twentieth century. Particular attention focused on the importance of networks in understanding these connections. International links were facilitated by the development of the League of Nations and its affiliated organisations, as well as the adoption of free trade policies by leading civil society groups like the YWCA in the 1930s.
David Thackeray and Richard Toye explored the changing politics of international consumer activism in Britain between the 1940s and 1960s. The paper also considered how social surveys can help us understand the evolution of public attitudes towards Commonwealth and European trade. Consumer activism became noticeably more insular in focus after 1945 and attempts to promote the idea of ‘Buying British’ were challenged by the increasing globalisation of manufacture.
David Clayton discussed how Hong Kong was understood as a bastion of ‘Chinese capitalism’ from the 1950s onwards, attracting the interest of prominent neoliberals such as Keith Joseph. In turn, Hong Kong business bodies engaged in extensive PR activities in Britain to defend their activities and respond to the growth of protectionism by organisations such as the EEC. Such activities built on earlier UK-China networks, but in the context of the Cold War Hong Kong was now recast as a ‘Berlin of the East’.
Reports on the earlier workshops are available here and here. The AHRC Imagining Markets network has led to the development of the History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum. You can read about our aims and activities here.