The Capital of Capitalism. A Global Emotions History of the Homo Oeconomicus From 1840 to 1990

Agnes Arndt

Is the capitalist entrepreneur associated with feelings of greed a specific feature of capitalism? Or is capitalism rather a product of entrepreneurial action, which spreads so persistently and develops even under non-capitalist preconditions precisely because it draws on mental and emotional resources other than those of personal profit-seeking?

The project focuses on the question of how people became entrepreneurial, from the 1840s to the present. Based on autobiographical and biographical material, on letters, requests, and the curricula of business schools as well as relevant business journals and social networks, questions about the structural and personal dimensions of entrepreneurial behavior are combined. How were—and are—entrepreneurial personalities formed? By which economic, political, and cultural systems are they produced and promoted, by which are they slowed down and hindered? Which cultural and regional characteristics and which supra-individual contexts of meaning such as family, church, and civil society play a role?

The project shows that, in addition to all structural factors, it is above all the individual motives, dispositions, and emotions of entrepreneurs that must be brought into focus in order to understand the ways in which capitalism is made, advanced, and defended against all crises and criticism. The global history project investigates the functional logic of these emotions for entrepreneurial action and decision-making as well as the value concepts and legitimation contexts that underlie them in economic, moral, social, and cultural terms. While initial results were presented in several articles and an edited volume, a monograph on the topic is nearing completion. 

Key References

Arndt, A. (2024). Effizienz und Emotion: Deutungsmuster und Dynamiken weiblicher Gefühlsarbeit in Familienunternehmen. In Draiflessen Collection (Ed.), Ehefrau, Erbin, Unternehmerin: Zum Wandel weiblicher Funktionen und Rollen in Familienunternehmen (pp. 157–167). Böhlau.
(English translation: Efficiency and emotion: Interpretive patterns and dynamics around women's emotional labour in family businesses. In: Draiflessen Collection gGmbH (Ed.), Ehefrau, Erbin, Unternehmerin: Zum Wandel weiblicher Funktionen und Rollen in Familienunternehmen. Göttingen: Böhlau, in press).
Arndt, A., & Pahl, K. (Eds.). (in press). Capitalist cold: On callousness and other economic emotions in Europe and the United States. Routledge.


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