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From oeconomy to "The Economy": Prosal and pastoral elements in modern discourses on government

Firth, Ann (1998) From oeconomy to "The Economy": Prosal and pastoral elements in modern discourses on government. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The emergence of an exchange economy in the eighteenth century created a new problematic of government; how to ensure that the pursuit of self interest in exchange was compatible with the reproduction and full employment of the population. From the eighteenth century to the present, thinking about the government of economic security has addressed this problem in a number of different ways, each of which represents a delicate balance between what I call a prosal element concerned with commercial freedom and a pastoral element concerned with the welfare of the population. The interaction between these two elements in the period 1750-1840 in England forms the subject of this thesis.

The thesis seeks to demonstrate that, at the end of the eighteenth century, the conception of wealth creation as a self-regulating system separate from the activity of government was contemporaneous with a shift in the balance of the pastoral and prosal elements of government. The provision of employment and subsistence through the exercise of pastoral power was increasingly perceived as an unwarranted and counterproductive interference with the natural processes of 'the economy.' The access of the population to public assistance, which is central to the exercise of eighteenth century pastoral power, was recoded as a threat to national wealth, to be minimised through the contraction of public relief and the establishment of a free labour market.

However, it will be argued, the exercise of pastoral power did not disappear. In the nineteenth century, pastoral power was transformed and re-incorporated into governmental practices at the level both of the individual and the population as a whole. At the level of the individual, certain techniques of self-examination and self-judgement, associated with pastoral power in Christian thought were incorporated into governmental practice as ways of forming individuals characterised by economic independence and responsible parental values. At the level of the population, the recognition that the inhabitants of the new industrial cities were being prevented from attaining natural norms of health and personal responsibility by the urban environment was the impetus to extensive government intervention through the provision of public health infrastructure and education. This intervention represents the development of a new form of pastoral power.

In summary, the displacement, transformation and re-incorporation of the pastoral element of government in the early decades of the nineteenth century represents the first of a number of difficult realignments of a prosal element concerned with the pursuit of self interest and a pastoral element concerned with the rational management of population, through which modern governments have attempted to address the problem of economic security.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Harris, Patricia
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