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The 'Will to Civilization' and Its Encounter with Laissez-Faire

Cristina Rojas de Ferro
Review of International Political Economy
Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter, 1995), pp. 150-183
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4177139
Page Count: 34
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The 'Will to Civilization' and Its Encounter with Laissez-Faire
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Abstract

This paper argues that we need to broaden the understanding of political economy beyond the circulation of 'things' so as to include forms of production, transformation and exchange of meanings. To illustrate the argument, the paper focuses on the contradictory encounter between two regimes of representation in nineteenth-century Colombia: the 'will to civilization' and laissez-faire. Because political economy was founded upon the desire to civilize classes, races and gender, the premises for laissez-faire could not be achieved. Arguments about local artisanship, the causes of poverty or the international division of labour were embedded in distinctions between the local and the European: ignorant artisans were contrasted with English workers, theory was preferred to reality and coarse textiles were compared to imported ones. Negative representation of female and Indian dresses increased the desire for imported textiles, which in turn led to the displacement of local manufactures in favour of European ones. In those nations imagined as deprived of civilization, the idea of a self-regulatory principle did not prosper. In Colombia, the formation of gender, class and racial identities within the 'will to civilization' regime of representation arrested the formation of an 'indifferent' capitalist labour market.

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