My new book Speculative Enterprise: Public Theaters and Financial Markets in London, 1688-1763 is available now from the University of Virginia Press. In it, I argue that a conceptual space I call the theater-finance nexus was vital to early modern economic and political thought, and that it became a critical site for theorizations of London’s emergent publics at the turn of the eighteenth century.
At a moment when the formal discipline of political economy was in its infancy, the theater and its media landscape provided a discourse zone for understanding complex economic systems—one that stressed risk, contingency, and the potential irrationality of markets rather than quantification and reason. As I find, the features of the theater that mirrored financial markets and alarmed contemporaries were the very features that allowed new kinds of counterpublics to emerge there: its hyper-commercialism, its dependence on a fragile and volatile collective opinion, its accessibility to members of different classes and genders, and its ability to circumvent processes of rational-critical debate in which cultural elites held the advantage. In telling this story, my book combines methods from literary studies, theater and performance history, media theory, and work on print and material culture to provide a fresh understanding of the centrality of theater to public life in eighteenth-century London.
I recently had the opportunity to chat about the book with Paul Peppis, Director of the Oregon Humanities Center, on the UO Today podcast.