Hidden Capitalism: Beyond, Below, and Outside the Visible Market

Call for Proposals

In reviving the study of capitalism, scholars have emphasized the transformative power of markets and commodification. Yet, a crucial part of what drives capitalism falls outside of waged relations and formal, visible exchange. 

For a conference sponsored by the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society on November 10th 2017, we invite proposals that explore the substantial economic activity that occurs on the margins and in the concealed corners of the formal economy. These activities may be hidden or take place in “markets” that are not defined or measured by the normal terms we use to define and measure markets. Uncovering these forgotten or obscured activities can focus new attention on the mutual dependency of the visible and invisible markets and how the moralities of such markets both converge and diverge.

We are interested in original, unpublished empirical essays addressing the long twentieth century (1890 to the present) and that consider one or more of the following questions:

  • How does the expansive twentieth-century regulatory state impact the relationship between public and hidden or extra-market economic activity?
  • As more and more of life is exposed to the surveillance of the market and state regulation, does capitalism breed a demand for methods that conceal and obscure economic activity (e.g. tax havens, shadow banking, and offshoring)?  How in turn does the state work to bring such hidden activities to light?
  • To what extent does capitalism continue to depend on the hidden and uncompensated labor of reproduction and family maintenance, typically performed by women?  How has the gendering of traditionally non-monetized activities influenced how we have subsequently monetized such services (e.g. elder care, child care, bartering of domestic services among friends and neighbors)? 
  • How should we conceptualize the differences between legal activity and illegal activity, and semi-legal gray market activity (e.g. smuggling, fraud, the dark web, and trade in vices, body parts, and adopted children)?  How and to what extent are illicit and licit markets interconnected?
  • How and to what extent does the freely-given creativity of actors working deliberately under the radar of the market (e.g. peer sharing, open source innovation) alternately advance business innovation and undermine established markets and modes of capital accumulation?
  • In what ways does the visible market depend on invisible ones for its legitimacy and success?  Does the hidden economy buoy capitalism, or destabilize it, or both?
  • How do understandings of risk and the nature of rewards for both the public and hidden economic activities interact and influence one another? What can be concluded about the connection between risk and reward in these contexts?
  • How and to what extent do non-market forms of economic activity openly reject the moral imperatives of capitalism in the interest of distributive justice (e.g. dumpster diving, minimalist living, reuse of used goods)?

Application Process:

Submit proposals of no more than 500 words and a one-page C.V. to Carol Lockman at by May 1, 2017. We welcome submissions from historians as well as ethnographically oriented social scientists. Presenters will receive lodging in the conference hotel and up to $500 to cover their travel costs.

This conference was initiated by Lisa Jacobson and Ken Lipartito, and they are joined on the program committee by Roger Horowitz (Hagley Museum and Library) and Wendy Woloson (Rutgers University)


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Archive of past conferences  

Center Fellowships Awarded, November 2016

Exploratory Grants

Marion Casey
Assistant Professor
New York University
Irish Image in American Popular Culture

Jonathan Coopersmith
Texas A&M University
Creative Construction:   The Importance of Fraud and Froth in Emerging Technologies

Jonathan Dentler
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Southern California
Picture Telegraphy and the Globalization of Sight, 1925-1940

Joseph W. Plender
Ph.D. Candidate
New York University
Abundant Emergence in New York Tape Music, 1947-1960

Ryan Driskell Tate
Ph.D. Candidate
Rutgers University
America's Persian Gulf:   The 1970s Energy Crisis and the American West

Nicole Welk-Joerger
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Pennsylvania
Feeding Others to Feed Ourselves:   The Politics of Health between Humans and their Food Animals, 1896-1996

Philip Wight
Ph.D. Candidate
Brandeis University
Refueling the Dream:  The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and the Quest for American Energy Independence

H. B. du Pont Fellowship

Julia Abramson
Associate Professor
University of Oklahoma
Finance and Culture:  Perspectives from Enlightenment France

Taylor A. Currie
Ph.D. Candidate
Queen's University
Better Living and Better Citizens….through Chemistry:  DuPont Public Relations Campaigns and the Crafting of American Citizenship during the 20th Century

Spring Greeney
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Line Dry:  An Environmental History of Doing the Wash, 1845-1992

Alexandra Hyard
Associate Professor
University of Lille I
Politics of Physiocracy

Paul Taillon
Senior Lecturer
University of Auckland
Railroad Labor Relations, Labor Movement Activism & Railroad Labor Policy in the US from WWI to the 1920s

Jacques Vest
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Michigan
Vox Machine:  Phonographs and the Birth of Sonic Modernity, 1877-1929

H. B. du Pont Dissertation Fellowship

Jameson Karns
Ph.D. Candidate
University of California, Berkeley
Military Policy and the American Civilian

Nicole Mahoney
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Maryland, College Park
Liberty, Gentility, and Dangerous Liaisons:  French Culture and Polite Society in Eighteenth-Century America


Hagley Exploratory Research Grants

These grants support one-week visits by scholars who believe that their project will benefit from Hagley research collections, but need the opportunity to explore them on-site to determine if a Henry Belin du Pont Fellowship application is warranted. Priority will be given to junior scholars with innovative projects that seek to expand on existing scholarship. Applicants should reside more than 50 miles from Hagley, and the stipend is $400. Application deadlines: March 31, June 30 and October 31


Henry Belin du Pont Fellowships

These research grants enable scholars to pursue advanced research and study in the collections of the Hagley Library. They are awarded for the length of time needed to make use of Hagley collections for a specific project. The stipends are for a maximum of eight weeks and are pro-rated at $400/week for recipients who reside further than 50 miles from Hagley, and $200/week for those within 50 miles. Application deadlines: March 31, June 30 and October 31


Henry Belin du Pont Dissertation Fellowships

This fellowship is designed for graduate students who have completed all course work for the doctoral degree and are conducting research on their dissertation. Applications should demonstrate superior intellectual quality, present a persuasive methodology for the project, and show that there are significant research materials at Hagley pertinent to the dissertation. This is a residential fellowship with a term of four months. The fellowship provides $6,500, free housing on Hagley's grounds, mail and internet access, and an office. Application deadline: November 15

For more information visit our Grants & Fellowships page.