CFP/Hidden Capitalism: Beyond, Below, and Outside the Visible Market

Carol Ressler Lockman's picture





Hidden Capitalism:

Beyond, Below, and Outside the Visible Market


A Conference at the Hagley Museum and Library

Wilmington, Delaware, November 10, 2017



In reviving the study of capitalism, scholars have emphasized the transformative power of markets and commodification.  Yet, a crucial part of what drives capitalism falls outside of waged relations and formal, visible exchange. 

For a conference sponsored by the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society on November 10, 2017, we invite proposals that explore the substantial economic activity that occurs on the margins and in the concealed corners of the formal economy. These activities may be hidden or take place in “markets” that are not defined or measured by the normal terms we use to define and measure markets. Uncovering these forgotten or obscured activities can focus new attention on the mutual dependency of the visible and invisible markets and how the moralities of such markets both converge and diverge.

We are interested in original, unpublished empirical essays addressing the long twentieth century (1890 to the present) and that consider one or more of the following questions:

  • How does the expansive twentieth-century regulatory state impact the relationship between public and hidden or extra-market economic activity?
  • As more and more of life is exposed to the surveillance of the market and state regulation, does capitalism breed a demand for methods that conceal and obscure economic activity (e.g. tax havens, shadow banking, and offshoring)?  How in turn does the state work to bring such hidden activities to light?
  • To what extent does capitalism continue to depend on the hidden and uncompensated labor of reproduction and family maintenance, typically performed by women?  How has the gendering of traditionally non-monetized activities influenced how we have subsequently monetized such services (e.g. elder care, child care, bartering of domestic services among friends and neighbors)? 
  • How should we conceptualize the differences between legal activity and illegal activity, and semi-legal gray market activity (e.g. smuggling, fraud, the dark web, and trade in vices, body parts, and adopted children)?  How and to what extent are illicit and licit markets interconnected?
  • How and to what extent does the freely-given creativity of actors working deliberately under the radar of the market (e.g. peer sharing, open source innovation) alternately advance business innovation and undermine established markets and modes of capital accumulation? 
  • In what ways does the visible market depend on invisible ones for its legitimacy and success?  Does the hidden economy buoy capitalism, or destabilize it, or both?
  • How do understandings of risk and the nature of rewards for both the public and hidden economic activities interact and influence one another? What can be concluded about the connection between risk and reward in these contexts?
  • How and to what extent do non-market forms of economic activity openly reject the moral imperatives of capitalism in the interest of distributive justice (e.g. dumpster diving, minimalist living, reuse of used goods)?


Submit proposals of no more than 500 words and a one-page C.V. to Carol Lockman at by May 1, 2017. We welcome submissions from historians as well as ethnographically oriented social scientists.  Presenters will receive lodging in the conference hotel and up to $500 to cover their travel costs.

This conference was initiated by Lisa Jacobson and Ken Lipartito, and they are joined on the program committee by Roger Horowitz (Hagley Museum and Library) and Wendy Woloson (Rutgers University).