Laura MENEGHELLO (Gießen): The Making of the Global Economy (1850–1945), A Discourse Analytical Approach to the History of Economic Science (History of Science Meets Economics)

Contribution to the Summer university “Cultures and knowledge of economy (18th-20th c.)” at the GHI Paris, June 21-24, 2016.

Whereas the concept of “global economy” becomes more and more central in current debates, the history of such a conception of economy has hardly been investigated. Since when was economy perceived as a global issue? What “ethical values” were related to it, and what “epistemic values” (Daston and Galison) were related to economics as a discipline dealing with global issues? What institutions and networks contributed in shaping the conception of the global economy? These and other questions should be the object of a cultural history of the global economy. The approaches of the history of knowledge and of discourse analyses are still nascent in the history of economics. An entangled history of knowledge of the global economy would approach economics as a scientific discipline not through its own categories, but through a discourse analytical approach allowing to take a critical distance from the concepts of classical economic theory and to question their universal validity, thus historicizing economics as a science.

Inspired by the approaches of cultural history and of the history of knowledge, my project aims at analyzing the conception of global economy in the process of its making, as being shaped and developing in parallel with economics as a discipline. Processes of knowledge circulation between nations and disciplines, as well as claims of scientificity and universality in the economic discourse will play a central role.

My paper addresses the historicity of global economy through an analysis of French, German, and other European and American scientific journals, newspaper articles, and books published in the period between 1850 and 1945, in particular through examining the self-understanding and the development of economics as a discipline concerned with global economic processes. The suggested approach seeks both to deconstruct the discourses on global economy and to reconstruct the networks of experts who contributed in spreading conceptions of world economy. “Travelling concepts” (Bachmann-Medick) between both disciplinary and national borders would constitute a key theoretical approach for such an entangled history of economics, which would be both interdisciplinary and transnational. This approach is comparative and transnational, and implies a broadening of the study of culture to a field – economics – whose laws are often considered to be universal and independent from cultural variances.

I will argue that the concept of “world economy” originated in the mid nineteenth century but that it became common after the end of World War I, the economic crisis of 1929 and, finally, Word War II; thus, it can be considered as a product of crises. I maintain that the discourses on “world economy” were conceived in opposition not only to national, but also to colonial economy. I will also show how international organizations such as the League of Nations on the one hand, and socialist and communist movements on the other hand, influenced the circulation of the concept. The German concept of “Weltwirtschaft” and, in particular, the translation of some works by German scholars publishing in the journal “Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv”, played a significant role in the European scenario.


Laura Meneghello is a postdoctoral researcher. In 2015, she finished her thesis on „Jacob Moleschott: Science, Politics, and Popularization in Nineteenth-Century Europe“ at the University of Gießen. She holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Venice and a Master in Philosophy from the University of Utrecht.


Teamaccount der Redaktion. Forschen – Vermitteln – Qualifizieren: Das DHI Paris ist ein zentraler Akteur international ausgerichteter historischer Forschung im Verbund der Max Weber Stiftung, Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland.

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