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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The production of economic knowledge in the anti-corn law campaign, 1839-1846 Low, Guanming


Science studies contends that scientific knowledge is produced through social and geographical processes. This dissertation applies this insight to the production of economic knowledge, specifically addressing how the Anti-Corn Law League, an organization that campaigned against the protectionist Corn Laws in Britain in the 1830s and 40s, made economic truth. The argument is organized in five chapters. The Introduction discusses the key theoretical ideas from science studies – controversy, consensus, and credibility – that later chapters use in interpreting the Anti-Corn Law campaign. Chapter II supplies the social and intellectual context of the Anti-Corn Law movement, showing how its origins in Manchester shaped its meaning, and how uncertainty about the benefits of free trade compelled Leaguers to present a persuasive case for it. Chapter III explores how the League’s public meetings were conducted, arguing that economic knowledge was produced through the processes of presenting and authenticating testimony, in which mass assent, expressed through various imaginaries of the nation, functioned as a rhetorical voucher of truth. Chapter IV examines a case in which assent was not attained, and the means through which the League sought to maintain credibility. It is argued that the League depicted itself as trustworthy according to assumptions society shared about what counted as knowledge and honesty, assumptions that constituted what can be called a cultural map of credibility. The Conclusion summarizes the main arguments of the thesis. It explicitly relates the study to the literature on the geographies of science, and elaborates on how geographical imaginations are inscribed in the process of knowledge production.

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