Remembering the Future: Entrepreneurship Guidebooks in the US, from Meditation to Method (1945-1975)

  • Martin Giraudeau London School of Economics & Political Science

Abstract

This paper discusses Foucault’s analyses of the rise of the entrepreneur in the second half of the 20th century. Whereas Foucault based his conclusions on readings of economic theory, we propose here to look at “practical texts,” i.e. entrepreneurship guidebooks, in the way Foucault himself did in his research on antiquity. We also mobilize Foucauldian concepts from his lectures on the “Care of the Self” and the “Hermeneutics of the Subject” to account for our empirical observations. By comparing two series of entrepreneurship guidebooks issued by the US government in the mid-1940s and the late 1950s-1975, we argue that a major shift occurred between these two periods. In the 1940s, the future was supposed to be meditated upon: entrepreneurs were incited to mentally consider the dangers of running a business, and they were given mental techniques, along with basic paper technologies (e.g. checklists), in order to do so. A bit more than a decade later and for the decades to follow, entrepreneurs were told to plan their new businesses thoroughly, and thus to devise their future; they were provided with more advanced paper technologies (accounting technologies and business plan templates). The future was no more an object of meditation: it had become a methodical project.

Author Biography

Martin Giraudeau, London School of Economics & Political Science
Martin Giraudeau is Lecturer in Accounting at the London School of Economics & Political Science. He holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Toulouse, France. His research is situated at the crossroads of accounting studies, economic sociology and business history. Martin's work on the history of business plans has been published in Sociologie du Travail, Long Range Planning, and the Journal of Cultural Economy.
Published
2012-04-24
Section
Special Issue on Foucault and Accounting