Actuarial age: insurance and the emergence of neoliberalism in the postwar United States.

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Actuarial age: insurance and the emergence of neoliberalism in the postwar United States.

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This dissertation charts a history of the social and cultural life of private insurance in the United States after 1945. Drawing on analyses of insurance marketing, consumption, investment, and regulation, I argue that insurance institutions and actuarial practices played a crucial role in introducing neoliberal rationalities and governance to American life in the years following World War II. Through postwar marketing, public service campaigns, and a host of instructional and lobbying efforts, private insurers sought to train and produce a new kind of responsibilized insurance consumer and entrepreneurial subject-citizen - one who could think in actuarial, risk-based ways about family, finance, and the future, and who eschewed the public provision of social welfare in favor of private security. The emergence of a postwar neoliberal order entailed a spatial transformation as well as a social one. In the three decades following World War II, insurance institutions invested billions of dollars in shopping centers, urban housing developments, suburban subdivisions, and infrastructure projects like natural gas pipelines. These investments helped restructure the American landscape by producing securitized spaces geared towards ensuring the circulation of people, goods, and private capital. The political impacts of actuarial practices were also profound. In debates with insurers over the classification categories used to price and determine availability of insurance coverage, civil rights and women's activists attempted to curtail discrimination by changing the regulatory frameworks that governed the private insurance industry. The failure of activists to secure legislation and their demands for more precise statistical measurements in the field of insurance underwriting reflected the diminishing utility of rights-based frameworks in combating discrimination in insurance and signaled the triumph of a new, actuarial, understanding of political community as structured around the notion of risk. The growing presence of actuarial systems and the emerging neoliberal social order did not go unnoticed, or uncontested, by postwar observers. In the years immediately following World War II, opposition to actuarial thinking arose in American popular culture in the critique of private insurance and its ability to provide security in postwar drama, in the dark meditations on fate and fragmentation offered by film noir, and the dystopian and turbulent future worlds depicted by science fiction. Resistance to actuarialism, however, diminished in the final decades of the twentieth century as Americans increasingly began to identify insurance classifications and contracts as natural and inevitable, and to see private security as a right of citizenship. This dissertation offers a genealogy of this transformation, revealing the roots of neoliberalism in risk-based calculative rationalities and the vital role of insurance institutions in shaping America's actuarial age.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2011. Major: History. Advisors: Elaine Tyler May and Lary May. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 277 pages.

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Horan, Caley Dawn. (2011). Actuarial age: insurance and the emergence of neoliberalism in the postwar United States.. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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