The agencement of industrial branch life assurance

McFall, Liz (2009). The agencement of industrial branch life assurance. Journal of Cultural Economy, 2(1 - 2) pp. 49–65.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17530350903063933

Abstract

Agencements are arrangements endowed with the capacity of acting in different ways depending upon how they are configured. In advocating the term 'agencement' Callon's aim is to signal the close interweaving of words and actions and thus jettison the more Austinian associations of performativity. Agencement calls attention to the various processes by which economic actors, both human and non-human, are endowed with the fixtures, fittings and devices necessary to conduct themselves in particular ways. Thus depending upon how things are arranged or configured, disinterested or selfish, calculative or non-calculative, individual or collective agencies become possible. This model works well to describe the emergence of markets for industrial branch life assurance in the UK from the nineteenth century. Companies like the Prudential and the Pearl reacted to the conflicts, crises and controversies in the commercial market and the competition between socialised and privatised or prudentialist insurance models with Industrial Branch Assurance. This claimed to provide security for the thrifty poor by employing an army of agents whose weekly premium collections helped impose the discipline of thrift and security. Through the notion of agencement, the effect of hybrid combinations of human bodies, material equipment, technical devices and cognitive processes in creating a sustainable market for a peculiarly expensive financial savings product targeted at the working classes thrift is exposed.

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