On April 21st 2021 I delivered a paper at the launch event for the Oxford Handbook of Politics and Performance. The title of my paper followed that of the chapter I contributed to the book, 'The Market: Eighteenth-Century Insights into the Performance of Market Practices'. The event was organised by the University of Warwick, but in line with all other events at the time it was held online.
Abstract: ‘The market’ has no independent objective existence beyond the practices that are embedded within particular market institutions. Those practices, in turn, involve learning particular techniques of performance, on the assumption that each market environment rewards a corresponding type of market agency. However, the ability to reflect what might be supposed the right agential characteristics is not an instinct that is hard-wired into us from birth. Instead it comes from perfecting the specific performance elements which allow people to recognise themselves as potentially competent actors in any given market context. This chapter takes the reader back to some of the earliest accounts of these performance elements, showing that important eighteenth-century debates about how to flourish as a market actor revolved around little else. In the early eighteenth century, Daniel Defoe emphasised the need for market actors to create convincing falsehoods, hiding their true feelings behind a presentation of self where customers’ whims were always catered to. In the late eighteenth century, Adam Smith was still wrestling with the dilemma of how genuinely the self could be put on display within market environments, believing that customers had a responsibility to curb excessive demands so that merchants’ interests could be respected. This meant not forcing them into knowingly false declarations, so that moral propriety and economic expedience were not necessarily antagonistic forces in the development of merchants’ character.