Un « bon gars »: l’importance des liens sociaux et des sociabilités dans la promotion de l’assurance-vie

McFall, Liz (2012). Un « bon gars »: l’importance des liens sociaux et des sociabilités dans la promotion de l’assurance-vie. In: Cochoy, Franck ed. Du Lien Marchand comment le marché fait société. Socio-logiques. Toulouse: Presses Universitiares du Mirail.

URL: http://w3.pum.univ-tlse2.fr/~Du-lien-marchand~.htm...


This paper addresses the role of the ‘good, average man’ or the ‘man at the door’ in marketing life assurance and industrial life assurance in particular. While older commercial life assurance companies struggled to establish and expand their markets in the nineteenth century, the industrial life offices saw exponential growth selling a form of life assurance targeted at the poor. The paper explores the role of door to door agents in securing this growth. Almost by accident, industrial assurance agents emerged as the salve to widespread concerns about the complexity, propriety and safety of life assurance. As the familiar ‘man at the door’, agents helped foster the trust at a distance that large financial institutions depended upon and they also helped, through their weekly visits, to impose the discipline of thrift on the often precarious cash economies of working class households. It was through entanglement in the social lives of their policyholders that agents helped establish and reproduce industrial assurance markets.
But the social ties that linked agents to their policyholders were a delicate matter. Industrial assurance offices had sprung up initially as a means of providing death benefits and came increasingly to provide life, endowment and other forms of cover to poorer communities. It was thus by definition a business transacted on intimate personal and social turf. But this social entanglement just added to the controversies aroused by a product reliant on an expensive business model of weekly door to door collection. Government and regulatory bodies feared that industrial assurance not only offered low financial returns but that it might damage traditional social bonds in sometimes dramatic ways – by for instance giving poor parents a pecuniary motive for neglecting their offspring or even hastening their deaths. The offices and their customers meanwhile defended agents on the grounds of their ties and their value to their communities. While offices may have sometimes exaggerated the goodwill customers felt towards their agents as ‘philosophers, guides and friends’; these agents were profoundly linked to their communities and policyholders through a variety of overlapping market, social and personal relations. The chapter will explore the way these varied ties arise as an inevitable component of the commerce or traffic of everyday life

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