Global Perspectives on Capitalising Lives (19th/20th centuries)

The panel analyses cultural differences in the understanding of wealth in a global perspective. Taking insurance and saving practices in different world regions as examples, the panel asks for the strategies of capitalizing individual lives in a long-term perspective and for the cultural values and practices involved. The panel investigates three culturally distinct world regions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:

a) the Middle East with a predominantly Muslim population (late Ottoman Empire and early Republic of Turkey);

b) Asian countries (Japan or China) marked by Buddhist, Confucianist or Shintoist influences;

c) a yet to be defined paper that treats either the Americas or an African context (both marked by Christian influences).

The case studies on the Middle East and on the Asian context focus on the spread of life insurance in these regions. The panel points out the relevance of religious beliefs and social values in general for adopting capitalist notions of lives and practices of insurance and saving in non-Western contexts. Values and beliefs constituted powerful non-statistical and non-actuarial approaches to dealing with self-investments in individual lives. For example, religious traditions such as the vakf system in the Ottoman Empire, along with family- and kin-based forms of financial precaution, impeded the spread of saving practices and insurance in Asian countries as well as in Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey. The panel asks how Western and non-Western practices of capitalizing lives interacted, in particular how cultural and religious traditions shaped specific forms of saving and insurance? It also investigates the relevance of legal and political regimes for the financial practices examined. How did the legal and political context shape the expansion of saving and insurance? This particularly relates to the effects of colonialism, nationalism and protectionism, to the divergence between capitalist and socialist countries – and to the regulatory regimes for financial markets in general.

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