Spectacular Speculation: Thrills, the Economy, and Popular Discourse
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Spectacular Speculation is a history and sociological analysis of the semantics of speculation from 1870 to 1930, when speculation began to assume enormous importance in popular culture. Informed by the work of Luhmann, Foucault, Simmel and Deleuze, it looks at how speculation was translated into popular knowledge and charts the discursive struggles of making speculation a legitimate economic practice. Noting that the vocabulary available to discuss the concept was not properly economic, the book reveals the underside of putting it into words. Speculation's success depended upon non-economic language and morally questionable thrills: a proximity to the wasteful practice of gambling or other "degenerate" behaviors, the experience of financial markets as seductive, or out of control. American discourses of speculation take center stage, and the book covers an unusual range of material, including stock exchange guidebooks, ticker tape, moral treatises, plays, advertisements, and newspapers.
S PE C TAC U L A R S PE C U L AT I O N S PEC TACU L A R S PECU L AT I O N T H R I L L S , T H E E CO N O M Y, A N D P O P U L A R D I SCO U R S E U R S STÄH EL I Translated by Eric Savoth S TA N F O R D U N I V E R S I T Y P R E S S S TA N F O R D, C A L I F O R N I A Stanford University Press Stanford, California English translation © 2013 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved. Spectacular Speculation: Thrills, the Economy, and Popular
speculative contingency as a threat to rational coherence, Americans euphorically emphasized that the inequalities developed in speculation could be overcome. In gambling everyone had the same chances. The roles of winner and loser were not determined in advance, but were established accidentally—even if skill and competence were factors in some games.33 Pure forms of gambling, such as the lottery or roulette, at least momentarily promised equal chances for everyone. The American sociologist
nothing—to claim free land, to pick up nuggets of gold, to speculate on western real estate. Like bettors, frontiersmen have cherished risks in order to get ahead and establish identity. Like bettors, migrants to new territories have sought to begin again in a setting that made all participants equal at the start” (Findlay 1986, 4). The love of highly individualized risk (“Take your chances!”) was not external to the identity of speculator and immigrant, but defined their identity. In contrast to
copying a given behavior. For Le Bon, the behavior of an individual was imitated by others, and thus spread like a contagion. Gabriel Tarde based his sociology on the “laws of imitation.”40 The logic of imitation becomes particularly clear in comparison to rumor. Rumor was repeated and spread by imitation. However, communication based on rumor did not require imitating the actions of other speculators. Rumor always introduced an outside reference into speculation by creating the suspicion that
had to be discarded. This need to ensure the objectivity of speculative communication was also reflected in the list of qualities that defined the ideal speculator: “1st, Judgement or knowledge; 2d, Nerve; 3d, Money; 4th, Patience” (Moore 1921, 42). Strikingly, access to money was not the highest priority on this list. The speculator first had to display professional knowledge and the proper psychological constitution (nerve), qualities that would allow his judgment to act as a “pilot” guiding