Settler colonialism is economical: Benjamin Huf, Making Things Economic: Theory and Government in New South Wales, 1788-1863, PhD Dissertation, Australian National University, 2018


Abstract: This thesis is a study of the invention and consolidation of a domain of knowledge and government we today denominate as the ‘economic’ in the particular context of the British colonisation of New South Wales. Two lines of argument are pursued. The first recovers the idea of British imperialism in New South Wales as an ‘economic’ project, in which phenomena that have been typically assumed as essential to colonial development – convict work, land settlement, wool growing, migration and their impact on Aboriginal societies – came to be classified, organised and administered as distinctly economic problems. As imperial and colonial authorities increasingly appropriated the ‘constitutive metaphors’ of Ricardian political economy in their reports, inquiries and correspondence, they re-narrated these phenomena from discrete problems of state to integrated dynamics of production, distribution and wealth-accumulation. This economic project is studied in distinction from, even as it intersected with, the paradigms of democratisation, settler colonialism and legal-positivist statism with which historians have tended to frame the colony’s political and intellectual history in the first half of the nineteenth century. Its legacies, in the identities it forged and projects it legitimated, have been as enduring as the colonial constitution but less closely assessed. The second line of argument, arising from this reading of colonial history, revises the significance of nineteenth-century political economy as an emergent political vocabulary in a nascent Australian political culture, and in English-speaking Anglophone culture more generally. In appropriating political economy as an official discourse, imperial authorities not only helped insulate the ‘economic’ as a domain of knowledge, but consolidated a new, reductive framework for interpreting, governing and debating social interaction, regulated by the imperatives of supply and demand, profits and wages. Together, these two lines of argument are offered as a critical exercise in recovering and recognising the historical functioning of economic language in official, public and everyday speech. They provide a fresh perspective on aspects of the colonial past, and recover legacies which continue to shape our world today.

%d bloggers like this: