Abstract

ABSTRACT:

This essay uses Melville's analysis of confidence to look at the importance of uncertainty in contemporary capitalism. I focus, in particular, on the invocation of confidence in political spheres as a way to index ostensibly underlying economic realities. In The Confidence Man, Herman Melville proposed that scrutiny of confidence was crucial for any understanding of 19th century America. He posited that, following P. T. Barnum, a larger and larger portion of communicative events were becoming conceivable as "pitches," where a seller tried to turn his or her interlocutor into a "buyer." The decision to buy required that the buyer accept the seller's claims about his subject position at a moment in which the buyer had very little to go on. The appeal of this economistic approach to communication has only increased with time, making an understanding of confidence urgent. Anthropologists of finance and politics in the United States ask us to consider the importance of debt, risk, and precarity. This essay proposes that confidence is the other face of this oft-tossed coin.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1518
Print ISSN
0003-5491
Pages
pp. 1007-1024
Launched on MUSE
2018-02-16
Open Access
No
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