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Archive for September, 2014

Playing the Numbers & the History of Capitalism

1012bThe September 2014 issue of the Journal of American History features an interchange on the history of capitalism, which includes this shout-out to Playing the Numbers from Peter James Hudson, an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles:

One of the more intriguing books to emerge is Playing the Numbers (2010). Examining the illegal lotteries organized by African Americans and Afro-Caribbean migrants in Harlem during the 1920s, the authors argue that such forms of financial organization were of such a scale and of such import that they need to be seen alongside the work of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. The authors also implicitly suggest the possibilities for thinking of the history of forms of economic organization and financial institutions on the margins of the formal market as economic and political forces.

Monographs such as Playing the Numbers suggest that we need to consider not only those modes of exchange and financial and economic organization that are outside of the formal market but also how they are often a necessary component of capitalist regimes of accumulation. Instead of trying to draw clear lines between precapitalist and capitalist forms or noncapitalist and capitalist forms of exchange and accumulation, it seems more productive to try to understand how, in many cases, the former—precapitalist modes of accumulation—are mobilized, used, and continued by the latter—especially in those regions where the transition to capitalism was contingent, provisional, and unfinished.

“Interchange: The History of Capitalism,” Journal of American History 101, 2 (September 2014): 528-29.

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