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Capitalist divination: popularist-speculators and technologies of imagination on the Hooghly River


  • Bear, Laura


Economic theory and technocratic policy have long understood economic action to be a communicative activity. From Laplace and Adam Smith to current liberalisation fiscal policy in India designed to produce price signals and entrepreneurial behaviour this conceptualisation has been dominant. Instead this article draws on the anthropology of divination to argue that capitalist action is provoked by technologies of the imagination that generate speculation. These issues are explored in the context of changing forms of governance of the Hooghly riverine economy by bureaucrats in the Kolkata Port Trust. Through ethnography we track how public-private partnerships are forged by exemplary men or 'seers' deploying divinatory action. The fortunes of business, trade and the livelihoods of informalised workers rest on these practices, which generate short-term unstable forms of capital accumulation. Drawing on this case, we can potentially develop comparative critical approaches to the recent emergence of popularist-speculators in India and elsewhere.

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  • Bear, Laura, 2015. "Capitalist divination: popularist-speculators and technologies of imagination on the Hooghly River," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 61803, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:61803

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael Goldman, 2011. "Speculative Urbanism and the Making of the Next World City," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(3), pages 555-581, May.
    2. Beckert, Jens, 2007. "The social order of markets," MPIfG Discussion Paper 07/15, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
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    speculation; divination; economic governance; South Asia; austerity;

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General

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