The Known Economy: Romantics, Rationalists, and the Making of a World Scale, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Known Economy

Romantics, Rationalists, and the Making of a World Scale, 1st Edition

By Colin Danby


202 pages | 9 B/W Illus.

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Why do critics and celebrants of globalization concur that international trade and finance represent an inexorable globe-bestriding force with a single logic? The Known Economy shows that both camps rest on the same ideas about how the world is scaled. Two centuries ago romantic and rationalist theorists concurred that the world was divided into discrete nations, moving at different rates toward a "modernity", split between love and money. Though differing over whether this history is tragedy or triumph, they united in projecting an empty "international" space in which a Moloch-like global capitalism could lurk.

The Known Economy tracks the colonial development of national accounting and re-examines the ways gender and heteronormativity are built in to economic representation. It re-interprets the post-WWII spread of standardized economic statistics as the project of international organizations looking over the shoulders of national governments, rather than the expanding power of national governments over populations.


"Incisive, illuminating, and strikingly original, The Known Economy is a lucid and erudite account of how modernist knowledge practices (especially those of economists) came together with the post-war international system to create what the author terms "the modern world scale". Danby's engaging and eye-opening tale should dispel once and for all the idea that national accounting is dull!" - James Ferguson, Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University

"An incisive genealogical critique of Modernist economics, The Known Economy adds a fresh dimension to postcolonial studies. Colin Danby's analysis of the origination in economics of the category known as "world scale" demonstrates the complicity of the international in the national and challenges postcolonial theory to rethink its perspective on nationalism and the nation state. For far too long, economics has been no more than a concept metaphor in postcolonial studies, and Danby's work remedies this situation and demonstrates the infrastructural imperatives of economics and economic accounting at work in the worlding of the postcolonial imaginary" - R. Radhakrishnan, Chancellor's Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine

The Known Economy offers an innovative account of the conceptions and forms of calculation with which mainstream economics came to represent and measure the economy. Equally, the book argues that some of the major cultural critics of modern economic thought share the same conceptual genealogy, reproducing in their criticisms some of the unexplored assumptions on which the contemporary global economy depends. Economic calculation and its critics, Danby tells us, jointly shape our world. - Timothy Mitchell, Professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University

The Known Economy provides a fascinating and insightful account of the contested representations that have shaped 20th century economic practice. Through a set of imaginative and carefully researched case studies, Colin Danby disrupts the binaries of household/market, national/global, modernity/tradition and love/money that animate economic thinking, while exposing the gendered, heteronormative and colonial power dynamics at work in even the most "technical" accounts of national and global economic activity. This book is crucial reading for anyone interested in critically rewriting economics outside of its current disempowering logics. - Suzanne Bergeron, Professor of Social Sciences, University of Michigan-Dearborn

Table of Contents

Preface and acknowledgments

Introduction: Sarkozy versus GDP

Part 1: The Voice of Economy

Introduction to Part I

1. Love or Money

2. A Jewish Economy in Palestine

3. Body of the Nation

4. Shape of the World

5. Discovering Economies in British Africa

6. The IMF Makes the World

Part 2: Romantic Responses

Introduction to Part Two

7. Romantic Political Economy

8. Shock of the Modern

9. Jameson’s Postmodern

10. Spirit of Finance

Part 3: Opening Up

11. Time and Finance

12. Numbered Things

About the Author

Colin Danby received a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1997 and is currently Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell. He has published articles in Post Keynesian theory, Feminist Economics, and Economic Anthropology.

About the Series


Culture, Economy and the Social

This series establishes the importance of innovative contemporary, comparative and historical work on the relations between social, cultural and economic change. It publishes empirically-based research that is theoretically informed, that critically examines the ways in which social, cultural and economic change is framed and made visible, and that is attentive to perspectives that tend to be ignored or side-lined by grand theorising or epochal accounts of social change. The series addresses the diverse manifestations of contemporary capitalism, and considers the various ways in which the `social', `the cultural' and `the economic' are apprehended as tangible sites of value and practice. It is explicitly comparative, publishing books that work across disciplinary perspectives, cross-culturally, or across different historical periods.

We are particularly focused on publishing books in the following areas that fit with the broad remit of the series:

  • Cultural consumption
  • Cultural economy
  • Cities and urban change
  • Materiality, sociality and the post-human
  • Culture and media industries
  • Culture and governance
  • Emerging forms of cultural and economic practice

The series is actively engaged in the analysis of the different theoretical traditions that have contributed to critiques of the `cultural turn'. We are particularly interested in perspectives that engage with Bourdieu, Foucauldian approaches to knowledge and cultural practices, Actor-network approaches, and with those that are associated with issues arising from Deleuze's work around complexity, affect or topology. The series is equally concerned to explore the new agendas emerging from current critiques of the cultural turn: those associated with the descriptive turn for example. Our commitment to interdisciplinarity thus aims at enriching theoretical and methodological discussion, building awareness of the common ground has emerged in the past decade, and thinking through what is at stake in those approaches that resist integration to a common analytical model.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General