From 'Political' to 'Human' Economy: The Visions of Harriet Martineau and Frances Wright.

Sanders, Mike (2001) From 'Political' to 'Human' Economy: The Visions of Harriet Martineau and Frances Wright. Women: A Cultural Review, 12 (2). pp. 192-203. ISSN 1470-1367

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The marginalization or exclusion of women from economic theory has a long and distinguished pedigree. Michele A. Pujol, in her groundbreaking study Feminism and Anti-Feminism in Early Economic Thought (1998), wryly observes that whilst Adam Smith devotes an entire page to the question of women's economic activity in his Wealth of Nations , women 'are nowhere mentioned in Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation and in Malthus's Principles of Political Economy ' (Pujol 1992:17-23). In similar fashion Groenewegen, in Feminism and Political Economy in Victorian England (1994), notes that 'there have been few women contributors to . . . economic literature' (Groenewegen 1994:16). Indeed, as far as the first half of the nineteenth century is concerned, only two women - Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau - seem to have written on political economy. Both wrote as expositors and popularizers of existing theoretical knowledge, content to repeat rather than challenge established orthodoxies, and as a result neither has commanded much more than a footnote in the history of economic thought. Martineau enjoys somewhat more of an enhanced reputation in the field of literary studies but even here attention tends to focus on A Manchester Strike at the expense of her other economic fictions. The present discussion, then, attempts to expand the field of vision with regard to Martineau by examining four of her economic tales: The Rioters (1827), The Turn-Out (1829), The Hill and the Valley (1832) and A Manchester Strike (1832). The first two of these were written prior to Martineau's 'conversion' to political economy, whilst the latter two appeared as part of Illustrations of Political Economy (a series of twenty-three tales published in twenty-five monthly parts between 1832 and 1843). As a way of exploring the disjuncture between economic theory and narrative events within these tales, the narratives themselves are read as implicit commentaries on (as well as 'illustrations'of) aspects of political economy, thereby allowing Martineau to emerge as a much more complex and problematic writer than is usually acknowledged. Also under examination here are the economic ideas of Frances Wright, another early nineteenth-century woman writer, particularly her critique of the existing economic order (which sharply differentiates her from Martineau) and her proposals for a new 'feminine' economy. The intention is to show that women writers on economics were not confined to the role of 'dutiful intellectual daughter, repeating . . . the words of her intellectual fathers' (David 1987:35)--to borrow Deirdre David's characterization of Martineau in Intellectual Women and Victorian Patriarchy --but were capable of articulating a thoroughgoing critique of existing theoretical models.

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Women: A Cultural Review
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