Speculative Endeavors.
Cultures of Knowledge and Capital in the Long Nineteenth Century

Organized by Dr. Katrin Horn, PD Dr. Karin Hoepker, and Selina Foltinek

Supported by DFG, WIN UBT, and Bavarian American Academy

This conference investigates the ways in which cultures of knowledge and forms of capital intersect in the US during the long nineteenth century. Epistemological and economic concerns complexly intertwine in the US, which by 1900 had emerged as “the land of speculation” (Stäheli). Influential texts such as Thorstein Veblen’s A Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics (1898) illustrate an altered perception of the significance of market dynamics for all areas of social interaction and a commodification of the private sphere. The rise of Wall Street, the increasing incorporation of America, and the experience of economic volatility drives people to seek potential “insider knowledge” about the machinations of markets, and different knowledges compete and conflict in the face of uncertainty.

Speculative Endeavors seeks to bring together new perspectives on speculation and knowledge production that include illicit, tacit, oral, unofficial, or subjugated knowledges. Traversing histories of scientific, scholarly, legal, and otherwise official knowledges, scholarship increasingly focuses on forms of “connected knowing” (Adkins) that may contain multiple “small, shared truths” (Spacks). Practices of speculation may be marginalized by their association with racial and gendered minorities. Or they may find expression as libel, slander, innuendo, rumors, gossip, and any number of other speculative or supposedly baseless modes of transaction and information. Yet despite their tenuous relationship to facts or publicly available evidence, these forms of knowledge are inextricably linked to economic concerns and contribute to covert informational labor. Mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion closely regulate access to and speculative value of such information, as when in 1890 E.L. Godkin commented on how “a particular class of newspapers […] has converted curiosity into what economists call an effectual demand, and gossip into a marketable commodity.”

To understand these intersections and tensions, the conference aims to facilitate a discussion of how these modes of knowledge relate to new forms of economic transactions and speculative thinking, practices of communication, and uses of mediality. The conference consists of four workshop panels, which discuss pre-circulated papers, and is flanked by two keynotes: Peter Knight (Manchester/Leiden) addresses “Vernacular Epistemologies of the Market” and Lori Merish (Georgetown) speaks about “Fugitive Knowledge: Poverty as Specular, Poverty as Speculation.”

Conference materials

Zoom links, pre-circulated papers and further information for participants can be found in the internal area after registering for the conference.