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Markets, standards and transactions: measurements in nineteenth-century British economy

Velkar, Aashish (2008) Markets, standards and transactions: measurements in nineteenth-century British economy. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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This thesis is concerned with measurements used in economic activity and investigates how historical markets managed transactional problems due to unreliable measurements. Existing literature has generally associated the problems of measurements in historical markets with the lack of uniformity in weights and measures. This thesis shows that metrological standardization was not sufficient to ensure reliability of measurements. Markets developed mensuration practices that enabled markets to address specific transactional issues in micro-contexts. This involved, in addition to the use of standardized metrology, improved governance of transactions, third party monitoring and guaranteeing, and other institutional solutions. Historical institutional arrangements were altered or replaced as a result of changing or standardizing mensuration practices. The thesis also makes a conceptual contribution in terms of understanding the process of standardization. It shows how, while standards can be inflexible and rationalized (i.e. limited in number), standardized practices can incorporate a number of such standards and be flexible in terms which standard to be used in a given context. Analytically, standardized practices are institutional objects that are determined endogenously and are formed in 'packages' that create interlinks between standards, other artefacts, rules and people. These arguments are developed by studying three detailed cases of mensuration practices in the British economy during the nineteenth-century. The case of the London Coal Trade examines how altered mensuration practices gave buyers greater assurance that the amount of coal they received was actually the amount they purchased. The case of the wire industry illustrates the struggles to define a uniform set of wire sizes that could overcome the disputes arising from incompatible and multiple ways of measuring wire sizes. The case of the wheat markets illustrates the complexity involved in developing standards of measurements such that quality could be reliably measured ex-ante. Through these case studies, the thesis shows how markets developed different mensuration practices to manage measurements in a given context.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2008 Aashish Velkar
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5601 Accounting
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Collections > Economists Online
Collections > LSE History of Thought theses
Supervisor: Morgan, Mary and Howlett, Peter

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