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The Malthusian and the anti-Malthusian: the use of economic ideas and language in the public discourse of nineteenth-century Britain

Montaigne, Maxine (2017) The Malthusian and the anti-Malthusian: the use of economic ideas and language in the public discourse of nineteenth-century Britain. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.fqzhlxwk90cw

Abstract

The nineteenth century saw the birth of economics as a distinct academic discipline in Britain, and with it a new relationship between economic thinkers, policy makers and the wider public, who played an increasingly active role in the sphere of economic discourse. One of the most contentious economic and social debates of this time was the question of population; population growth was seen as both essential to the new industrial economy, but also feared for its association with social unrest and degeneracy. This thesis aims to make sense of the changing content and nature of this debate starting from its intellectual foundation—the Malthusian theory of population—by examining the use of Malthusian theory and rhetoric in the public discourse of population throughout the century. In order to shed light on this changing discourse, this thesis contrasts two key moments in Britain’s population debate; the public reaction to Poor Law reform in the 1830s and 40s, and the controversial question of birth control in the 1870s and 80s. Each of these debates can be seen as an independent, yet connected ‘instance’ of the Malthusian population debate, manifesting as public concern for the private matter of family size. Through an analysis of the discourse surrounding these two debates, notably the use of Malthusian language and rhetoric within the popular press, it is possible to draw some conclusions about the way economic rhetoric was used within the nineteenth-century public sphere. This thesis argues that the purposeful appropriation of Malthusian rhetoric within the public sphere represents a form of public engagement with economics that has until now been poorly understood.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Maxine Montaigne
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Morgan, Mary
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/3822

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