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Social networks and entrepreneurship: the British merchant community of Uruguay, 1830-1875

Sims, Peter (2014) Social networks and entrepreneurship: the British merchant community of Uruguay, 1830-1875. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis provides an overview of the social and entrepreneurial careers and strategies of merchants during the first modern “commercial” era, 1830-75. It examines merchants as migratory entrepreneurs during the integration of peripheral regions into the transatlantic economy via commerce, technology transfer, and ideology. Merchants organized, operated and expanded overseas commerce, importing textiles and exporting pastoral products. They used a variety of strategies and firm structures to discover and exploit niches in a competitive, developing market. They also influenced the process of economic development and state building as capitalists and risk-bearers, financing both production and politics. Based on archival material from diverse collections in both the United Kingdom and South America, the research offers a qualitative account of the entrepreneurial activities of the British merchant elite in Uruguay. It uses case studies of British immigrant entrepreneurs, whose privileged access to capital and technology allowed them to expand the market for imported products and to exploit upstream opportunities in modernizing export production. Uruguay’s distinctive institutional and geographical characteristics allowed merchants to access markets, maximize their social and political connections, and to hedge political and market risks. British merchants used Montevideo as an alternative regional port to Buenos Aires, and the implications of this opportunity have been underexplored in the literature. In establishing and expanding their operations in Uruguay, merchants gained region-specific capital in the form of geographically fixed upstream investments, market knowledge, and positions in elite networks. The social connections of Anglo-Uruguayan merchants were essential in providing resources and influence for their entrepreneurial activities, but were also their point of entry into the contest over the economy and polity of the River Plate region. British merchants’ incentives changed towards engagement in the political and ideological struggles of the Uruguayan civil war, the guerra grande of 1839-51, as they contested political outcomes by acting as suppliers, financiers, and lobbyists. This involvement created an AngloUruguayan subset of River Plate merchants, who went on in subsequent decades to reshape the economy through investment and entrepreneurship.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Peter Sims
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Lewis, Colin M.

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