Marc Flandreau, Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: a Financial History of Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2016) 416 pp. $35.00 Pb, $105.00 Hb. ISBN: 9780226360447
In Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange:, Marc Flandreau argues that the economic value of ‘truth’ underpins the development of anthropology as its own discipline in the nineteenth century, or, put more succinctly, that 'the stock exchange led to anthropology' (xvi). He supports this argument by detailing the curious case of the Anthropological Society of London (AS), which existed for a mere eight years, from 1863-1871, before merging with the Ethnological Society to form the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.
Flandreau suggests that most historians of anthropology treat the AS as a mere footnote in the history of the discipline; in contrast, Flandreau asserts that 'the birth of the Anthropological Society must [...] be understood as a figment of transformations in the production and administration of trust, which […] was a crucial element in shaping late-nineteenth-century empire' (271). Thus, Flandreau considers the ways in which science was used to bolster empire, in a time when knowledge could be seen as a form of ownership: 'imperial ownership is about the technologies that permit knowing the empire you own' (244). More specifically, he suggests that the demise of the AS was part of a wider cultural change which led to the shift from ‘informal empire’ to the period of high imperialism beginning in the 1870s.
The stated aim of the book is to critique the social sciences in general, 'and the way they inspire policy and reflect deep social and political structures' (xiv). Flandreau rightly rejects the idea that science can ever be or has ever been truly disinterested, though this seems like a fairly obvious point. The idea that economics underpins all major institutions and disciplines in a capitalist society does not seem very groundbreaking from the perspective of a literary critic, but Flandreau insists that this idea is absent from discussions of the history of science by social scientists themselves. If true, then this book is certainly necessary.
Flandreau suggests that the history of the AS forms a useful case study to support a wider argument about 'the relevance of the financial context to the shaping of imperial knowledge', with 'implications far beyond the history of empire or the history of anthropology narrated here' (14). Flandreau therefore argues that Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange 'will help us understand more perennial relations between truth, value, and power' (14). Though the book provides fascinating insight into the political and economic machinations that surrounded the rise and fall of the AS, it is less successful in its intended interventions into the field of the history of science. The book clearly demonstrates the scientific underpinnings of empire in two interesting case studies (the interactions of Bedford Pim with the Miskito people and the Abyssinian crisis, detailed in chapters Seven to Nine). However, the relationship between science and empire is not, as far as I know, really disputed. More specific links between the London Stock Exchange and anthropology remain elusive. This is evident in the structure of the book itself: Flandreau does not discuss finance in any depth until Chapter Four.
Chapter One sets out to detail the intersections between nineteenth-century science and finance, an aspect of history that Flandreau claims has been perennially overlooked in histories of the period. However, in noting that 'Historians are so used to finding financiers in the various humanitarian and well-meaning groups active at the time that they barely pay attention anymore to such coincidences, accepted as facts of life' (24), Flandreau reveals one of the central problems with the premise of the book, a problem that is only obliquely addressed in the conclusion (270-273). He attaches great significance to the fact that government bodies, financial bodies, and learned societies all shared members, and suggests that there has been real 'resistance' to acknowledging these facts (27). It seems evident, however, that the fact that a small number of men of rank and title were at the fore of nearly every field in the Victorian period merely suggests a problem of privilege in the nineteenth century, which has been widely acknowledged by scholars of the period. The ways in which scientific knowledge affected finance, or vice versa, does not come to the fore in this book. For instance, in Chapter Five, Flandreau effectively demonstrates that members of the Geographical and Ethnological Societies were involved in a speculation scheme in South America, but does not show that their scientific knowledge or research underpinned the scheme in any way. He demonstrates that the prestigious social standing of these men was used to bolster the legitimacy of the Madeira and Mamore swindle, rather than their scientific standing. His arguments about the 'technologies of trustworthiness' that underpin 'gentlemanly capitalism' (126) are both interesting and convincing, but have little to do with anthropology itself, and seem very reliant on the previous work of Shapin, Endersby, Cain and Hopkins.
The case of Bedford Pim (Central American speculator and member of the AS), which spans chapters Seven to Eight, makes the most convincing case for the links between anthropology and the informal empire of railway speculation and land grabs. An interesting argument about the ways in which the ‘character’ of a foreign financial body (ie trustworthiness) was seen to be shaped by the ‘character’ of the race of the nation emerges in the case of the Miskito people of Nicaragua. Flandreau convincingly shows that the anthropological debate about the ethnic makeup of the Miskito people rested on financial and imperial, rather than scientific, claims (155). The rest of the book is less successful in making this point.
Flandreau sets out to be deliberately provocative in Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange, as is evident early in the Preface when he insists, 'I am not sure history is an academic discipline in the same way as anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics' (xv). The book may not, as he clearly hopes, radically reshape the field, but for scholars interested in the short-lived Anthropological Society or any of the key figures considered (Pim, Hyde Clarke, George Earl Church) there is plenty of detailed and valuable information to be found here.
Jordan Kistler, Keele University