The rise of the popular investor : financial knowledge and investing in England and France, 1840-1880

Alex PREDA *

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the knowledge frame in which financial investing became a popular, socially legitimate, and desirable activity in England and France in the nineteenth century. The empirical basis underlying the arguments of the article is provided by investor manuals, newspaper reports, advice brochures, stock price lists, financial charts, and novels from the period. The analysis focuses on the instruments and processes making possible a financial knowledge that could be legitimately acquired and utilized by separate, unrelated, individual actors dispersed over the territory. The core argument is that this knowledge should be understood as an integrative social practice - that is, as a nexus of legitimating discourses, rules, skills, and cognitive instruments that transformed financial investing into a socially desirable activity. At the same time, they generated forms of financial knowledge that were no longer embedded in local conditions, but could be transported across various contexts. The dominant modes of evaluating financial securities include the new instruments of balance sheet analysis, problem solving, and charts. In this integrative nexus of discourses and cognitive instruments, financial activities became first and foremost an object of knowledge. The investor's social and personal responsibilities became dependent upon his financial knowledge. This stance, together with the social desirability of financial investing and with the cognitive instruments provided to individual, dispersed actors, constitutes the ground for the expansion of financial investing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-232
Number of pages28
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Research for this article has been supported by grant 30940-24 of the University of Bielefeld. I thank the anonymous TSQ reviewers for their substantial and constructive suggestions, which have been of great benefit to the manuscript. The article has also benefited from the comments of Hans-Juergen Wagener, Herbert Kalthoff, Michael Power, and Trevor Pinch, to whom I am grateful.


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