Affective Economies

The recent financial crisis has again demonstrated that the concept of the homo oeconomicus with his rational interest in maximizing gains is flawed. Economics has started to take an affective and moral turn. Relatively new fields such as behavioral economics/finance and cultural economics produce studies about “emotionomics”, irrational decision making, and the animal spirits that drive economic processes.

The realization that our modern, capitalistic lives are also highly emotional raises historical questions: were economies always this emotional? How did the passions structure economic processes? How were emotional and moral issues accounted for in economic theory before the concept of the homo oecomonicus was established?

To find answers I am researching the history of stock trade, which has been perceived as highly emotional in its practice. From its inception in 1610, the stock trade was indeed a passionate, often violent endeavor, as well as a public spectacle. It fascinated contemporaries who, through treatises, cartoons, plays and engravings tried to understand its dynamics by combining a range of knowledge fields: natural science, (moral) philosophy, medicine, and theology. The resulting corpus offers a unique possibility to reconstruct the early modern conceptualization of trade as a moral, passionate, and physical, natural phenomenon.

My aim is to analyse early modern stock trade practices and discourses from the concept of emotional economies. As stock trade practices are shaped by the locations they take place, Inger Leemans and Timothy de Paepe have developed 3Dmodels of the Amsterdam stock exchange, built by Hendrik de Keyser.

The project was first announced in my inaugural lecture as Professor of Cultural history at VU University (Oratie Leemans VU 2011). A second – English language – version of this lecture was delivered  December 2011 at London, at a joint seminar of the Low Countries History and The Economic and Social History of the Pre-Modern World groups.

In my Keynote lecture on “The Nature of the Economy”at ISECS2015 (International Society for 18th-century Studies) I argued that the early sources about stock trade (depictions of the bourse, cartoons, poems, stock trade tractates and theater plays) tried to understand this new phenomenon as a natural science. See NRC review and the review by Ruben Verwaal of the ISECS2015 conference and my keynote lecture, and an interview with me about this research.

In 2015-2016, together with Kristine Steenbergh, I offered a Graduate Course on Environmental Humanities-Ecologies of the Stock Exchange. Together with Wouter de Vries, one of the students of this course, I am now finalizing an article on the concept of Wind trade as a specific Dutch concept. Recently, the national journal Trouw published an interview with me about this research.

Just published: “The Economics of Pain. Pain in Dutch Stock Trade Discourses and Practices 1600-1750”, in: C. van der Haven & K. Vanhaesebrouck (eds.), The Hurt(ful) Body. Performances of Pain and Audience Responses 1600-1800 (Manchester University Press 2017)