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A Dubious Science

Political Economy and the Social Question in 19th-Century France


Elizabeth M. Sage

A Dubious Science tells the story of nineteenth-century French political economy, an academic discipline that aspired to the status and authority of a «hard» science alongside such disciplines as physics and chemistry. It chronicles political economists’ encounter with «the social question» – all those unexpected social consequences of nineteenth-century industrialization – which offered concrete evidence that industrial capitalism showed few signs of guaranteeing happiness and economic success to all productive members of society. The social question forced economists to admit that their theoretical assumptions were not working in practice the way they were supposed to in theory and to confront the possibility that their science might be less certain than they had believed. This book explores the relationship between the unexpected socio-economic realities of an industrializing society and the disciplinary formation and self-protection of an aspiring human science, and it links political economy’s aspirations to governmentality, that peculiarly modern type of power explored by Michel Foucault. Like other «dubious» human sciences during the nineteenth century, French political economy was embroiled in a network of interventionist strategies, administered both from inside and outside the state, designed to produce docile bodies, obedient souls, and a content and productive population. A Dubious Science should prove valuable in courses on economic thought and its history; the history of the human sciences; the history and sociology of the professions; as well as the broader history of European industrialization and its consequences.