Title: 'The Place of Glasgow in The Wealth of Nations: Caught between Biography and Text, Philosophical and Commercial History', History of Political Economy, accepted for publication on December 20th 2021.
This article will appear in a symposium of the leading journal in its field, History of Political Economy, at some stage in 2022. The symposium is called, 'Reading Practices in Political Economy: The Case of Adam Smith'. My contribution relates to what is permissible when confronted with an absence in a text, and the particular absence through which I illustrate my argument is that of the place that Smith knew best when formulating his economic theory, Glasgow. We know from biographical studies of his life that Smith shared deep connections with the Glasgow merchants of his day: socialising with them, forming lasting friendships, and using them as key interlocutors when trying to specify the general principles on which economic progress was founded. Yet we also know from the text of The Wealth of Nations that Smith made no mention of these connections and hid the merchants he knew so well within generic character types. Why might this have been so? The methodological argument against seeking to 'correct' such absences nevertheless permits clues to be identified in the text which might reveal why noticeable absences are there. I focus on the tension between two genres of history visible within the text. Smith placed great emphasis on writing history in a philosophical register as a means of bringing abstract principles of economic development to light, but the commercial history of Glasgow entailed an unnatural progression to a global entrepôt from the perspective of his commercial history.