Risk, Honor & Innovation: Imagining New Markets
3rd Biennial Richard Robinson Workshop on Business History Portland State University
May 24-26, 2018 Portland OR
How did “innovation” become something to strive for, an end in itself? And how did “the market” come to be thought of as the space of innovation? The modern economy, according to Joseph Schumpeter, is based on “creative destruction”: the expectation of acceleration, expansion, and growth. As evoked by this term, novelty and dynamism are not only viewed as inevitable, but also generally beneficial. The market, market-relations, and the marketplace, have become key markers of what is forward-looking and progress-oriented in modern societies. These markers delineated an impersonal sphere of scientific, technical and agentless activities whose workings seemingly lay outside the realm of desires and emotions. Our workshop seeks to break down the divide between the impersonal (effects of technical limits and aggregations of large numbers) and the subjective (articulations of perceptions, fears, and self-regard) in the ways “the market” and “the economy” are conceived. We aim to reconsider market and business activities in light of both the techniques and the emotional vectors that infuse them.
This conference brings together scholars interested in querying this view of innovation and in exploring the emotional life of this phenomenon—scholars who seek to understand how markets have been created and expanded, as well as what was destroyed in the process. How did the introduction and promotion of new commodities and desires—as well as the lifestyles with which they were associated—affect the norms of acceptable market practices? While “supply” and “demand” are often presumed to be fixed categories, this interrogates how demands are created and sources of supply substituted (as in import substitution). What makes people want or even need something, particularly something they have never possessed before? How did expanded supplies of new commodities change prevailing views of what constituted personhood—how did soap, for example, become a requisite of civilization, curtains of domesticity, leisure of civility, and stock shares of sociality? Our workshop is in particular interested in the interplay of risk and honor in shaping new markets. Risk, refracted as perceptions of danger or opportunity, frequently worked to push the boundaries of acceptable market/business behavior. Honor, by contrast, could function to proscribe risk-taking to maintain a society’s status quo. But honor, as indicator of social standing and model for emulation, could also encourage entrepreneurship and expand the marketization of consumption. How did new markets emerge and old marketplaces become transformed amid these multivalent pulls?
We are looking for business histories (broadly construed) that tackle this intersection of desire, norms and markets in a variety of ways from all time periods and places, and we particularly encourage proposals on global, transnational, and non-Western topics and on developments before the twentieth century. Possible themes include, but are not limited to:
• Advertising, marketing, branding, and promotion of new products
Counterfeiting, generic goods, and knock-offs
Hucksterism, frauds, forgeries and deceit
Honor and dishonor
New forms of consumption/distribution and new lifestyles
Fashion and fads
Black markets and gray economies
Changing ethics of markets and changing boundaries of marketplace
Hedging, insurance, gambling, and speculation
Public debts and private assets
Banking, usury, and money supply
Exoticism, empire/emporium, and trade routes
The introduction and international migration of new products, services, sales techniques, and business models
Entrepreneurs, individual agency, and the invisible hand
The keynote address of the third biennial Richard Robinson Workshop will be given by Professor François R. Velde, Senior Economist and Research Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, on the evening of Thursday, May 24. Papers selected for the workshop will be pre-circulated and discussed in plenary sessions on Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26.
Paper proposals, consisting of a one-page CV and a 500-word abstract, should be sent to the workshop organizers, Thomas Luckett (Portland State University), Chia Yin Hsu (Portland State University), and Erika Vause (Florida Southern College), at firstname.lastname@example.org by November 15, 2017. Accepted proposals will be notified by January 5, 2018.
Presenters will receive lodging for three nights and meals. There will be no charge for conference registration. We are likely to provide some reimbursement of travel expenses depending on the availability of funds.
Chia Yin Hsu
Portland State University
Portland, OR 97207