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Adam Smith

Adam Smith


Call For Papers: Animal Spirits

International Conference organised by Micheline Louis-Courvoisier (UNIGE) and Sylvie Kleiman-Lafon (Université Paris 8)

4-5-6 February 2016, the Hardt Foundation, Geneva.

In the opening chapter of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne presents the animal spirits as a biological inheritance passed on from father to son. Because of their movements and activity, they are responsible for all the events — successes or failures — of human existence. Almost two centuries later, John Maynard Keynes used the same concept in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), and attributed the irrational behaviour of economic operations to the animal spirits: they are the driving force behind the actions of homo economicus, inciting action despite the uncertainties and risks inherent to the profession.

Before becoming a metaphor, animal spirits were conceived of as minute and subtle bodies by philosophers, theologists and physicians. Invisible but real, they were thought to be a pneumatic link between body and soul, matter and spirit. They replaced the pneuma of the Ancients and became an indefinable and vaporous substance: air or fire for Francis Bacon, a bright, mobile and pure flame for Descartes, an oily fluid for John Quincy and comparable to air or wind for Willis, who defined them as infinitesimal particles circulating through the nervous system, while for Mandeville they evolved in our blood vessels and digestive system. Responsible for our movements and sensations, they were also thought to influence our imagination and understanding. Their behaviour and their texture were directly determined by their environment (sleep, physical exercise, food, intellectual activity and even breathing) and they, in turn, influenced the good health of the body and mind (in Ficino, Montaigne, Bacon, Du Laurens, Purcell or Kinneir). In epistolary consultations, English-speaking patients often referred to the animal spirits to describe their conditions to their physicians, while this was rarely the case in the medical correspondence of French-speaking patients.

Much discussed through the end of the eighteenth century, they quickly disappeared from the general economy of the body as they failed to fit into an increasingly rational scientific discourse. Largely ignored by twentieth-century historians, they have recently attracted the attention of researchers and are now considered as transversal objects of study in a renewed scientific approach to the history of the body, of passions, and of the organic link between physiology and psychology (see, for example, the work of Elena Carrera, Heather Beatty, Clark Lawlor or Richard Sugg). We invite proposals for 20mn papers, in English or French, on a wide range of topics related to the animal spirits, without any chronological constraint.

Topics might include:

  • Animal spirits and the passions
  • Animal spirits, experience, and the writing of the self
  • Animal spirits and literature
  • Animal spirits and philosophy
  • Animal spirits and rhetoric
  • Animal spirits as metaphor
  • Animal spirits and bodily economy (digestion, the nervous system, sexuality, diseases)
  • Animal spirits and economic theory
  • Animal spirits and music

Proposals should be sent, with a short resume and a list of recent publications, to Micheline Louis-Courvoisier ( and Sylvie Kleiman-Lafon ( before May 22, 2015.


Appel à communication : Les Esprits animaux

Colloque international organisé par Micheline Louis-Courvoisier (UNIGE) et Sylvie Kleiman-Lafon (Université Paris 8)

4-5-6 Février 2016, Fondation Hardt, Genève.

Dès la première page de The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne fait des esprits animaux une sorte de patrimoine biologique transmissible de père en fils et rend leur mouvement et leur activité responsables de tous les événements, succès ou insuccès de l’existence humaine. Presque deux siècles plus tard, John Maynard Keynes récupère ce concept pour attribuer aux esprits animaux, dans sa General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), les comportements irrationnels liés aux processus économiques ; ce serait eux qui pousseraient l’homo economicus à agir malgré l’incertitude et le risque inhérents à sa profession.

Avant de devenir métaphore, les esprits animaux ont été considérés, aussi bien dans les théories philosophiques, théologiques que médicales, comme de minuscules corps, subtils, invisibles mais bien réels. Pour tous ils forment le lien pneumatique entre le corps et l’âme, entre l’esprit et la matière. Ils prennent la place du pneuma antique pour former une substance vaporeuse indéfinissable : air ou flamme pour Francis Bacon, flamme pure, mobile et vive pour Descartes, fluide huileux pour John Quincy, ils sont semblables à l’air et au vent pour Willis, qui en fait des particules infinitésimales circulant dans les nerfs (dans les vaisseaux sanguin et le système digestif pour Mandeville). Ils sont responsables de nos mouvements et de nos sensations ; ils influencent notre imagination et notre jugement. Leur comportement comme leur texture dépendent directement de leur environnement (respiration, sommeil, exercice, alimentation, activité intellectuelle) et influent en retour sur la bonne santé du corps et de l’esprit (voir Ficin, Montaigne, Bacon, Du Laurens, Purcell, Kinneir). Dans les consultations épistolaires, les malades anglophones s’y réfèrent souvent pour exprimer à leur médecin l’expérience de leur mal-être, contrairement aux malades francophones qui ne les mentionnent que très rarement.

Omniprésents jusqu’à la fin du dix-huitième siècle, ils disparaissent rapidement de l’économie corporelle n’ayant plus leur place dans l’essor d’une science de plus en plus rationalisante. Objets d’études délaissés par les historiens durant le 20e siècle, depuis quelques années, plusieurs chercheurs en ont fait des objets de recherches transversaux qui renouvellent une histoire du corps, des passions, du lien organique entre physiologie et psychologie (voir par exemple Elena Carrera, Heather Beatty, Clark Lawlor, Richard Sugg).

Nous vous invitons donc à proposer des communications d’une durée de 20mn, en anglais ou en français, sur les sujets suivants (liste non exhaustive), sans limitation chronologique :

  • Esprits animaux et passions
  • Esprits animaux, expérience et écriture de l’intime
  • Esprits animaux et littérature
  • Esprits animaux et philosophie
  • Esprits animaux et rhétorique
  • Esprits animaux et métaphore
  • Esprits animaux et économie corporelle (digestion, système nerveux, sexualité, maladies)
  • Esprits animaux et économie
  • Esprits animaux et musique

Les propositions, accompagnées d’un bref C.V. et d’une courte liste de publications récentes, sont à envoyer conjointement à Micheline Louis-Courvoisier ( et Sylvie Kleiman-Lafon ( avant le 22 mai 2015.


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Neoliberalism and the Crises of Economic Science

May 20-22, 2011,
Istanbul University, Beyazit


The global crisis of the last years of the “noughties” has cruelly exposed the deficiencies not only of mainstream economics but also of broader strands of political economy from across the social sciences more generally that have promoted neoliberalism. Media and academic commentary has focused on the inability to predict the crisis and the corresponding inadequacies of the economics profession, expecting a sort of self-criticism and reconstruction from within the discipline, whilst the inadequate treatment of the economic and the economy across the social sciences has been less harshly exposed to criticism.

In the case of economics, this has led to a spirited deference of the existing frame of analysis (What crisis? Bubbles don’t exist) and to the assertion that the discipline’s principles remain adequate but they need to be better and more realistically applied, possibly with the incorporation of other behavioural elements and techniques. Similar minor modifications to analytical frameworks have emanated from the international financial institutions and national treasuries, etc, if to some extent to allow for more discretion in policy rather than fundamental rethinks. Accordingly, the degree of rethinking within mainstream economics is strikingly underwhelming as, indeed, is the rethinking informing policy responses where neoliberal support to globalisation of finance remains to the fore, with dramatic adjustments at the expense of working people and the poor.

Although, then, the urgent issues brought about by the global crisis have made such questioning of mainstream economics both necessary and inevitable, there are also wider implications for a more inclusive reconstruction of economic understanding across the social sciences as a means to inform both academic and policy-making circles.

This conference will probe much deeper into the multiple crises of economic science, informed by the perspectives of political economy that have long been ignored and marginalised by the mainstream, whether deriving from critical political economy and heterodox economics or from the treatment of the economy from across the social sciences as a whole. The ultimate aim is to explore new avenues in promoting and developing critical political economy in view of recent developments. As well as engagements with economics and the economic, we are seeking individual contributions and proposals for panels that address Neoliberalism and the Crises of Economic Science through:

● the critical weaknesses of the mainstream in its continuing evolution;

● critique of recent developments within mainstream economics such as game theory, experimental economics, behavioural economics, neuroeconomics, complexity theory, etc;

● the challenges to, and potential for, heterodox economics and Marxist political economy;

● the lessons that can be gained from the history of economic thought;

● the role of methodology in the critique of mainstream economics and neoliberal political economy in providing for alternatives;

● the relation between economics and other social sciences in view of economics imperialism: economics and politics, economic history, philosophy, sociology, law, etc;

● the role of interdisciplinarity in promoting alternatives to the mainstream;

● the role to be played by critical political economy within social science;

● the ways in which an alternative economics can engage with and promote both activism and alternative theories, policies and ideologies;

● how to locate the world economy and the role of the (neoliberal) (nation-) state;

● the relationships between finance and accumulation and between economic and social reproduction;

● the analytical location of class, power and conflict.

We welcome both individual submissions and proposals for panels (or streams of panels), with the latter ideally already incorporating a number of proposed submissions but allowing for others to be added as appropriate.

The deadline for submission of both individual abstracts of papers and proposals for panels is the 15th of February 2011(submissions should be sent and/or

Potential participants will be notified by the 15th of March. The deadline for the submission of full papers is the 15th of April. Early submissions, even if only provisional, are essential both to avoid disappointment and to help in the appropriate allocation of papers to designated panels and streams that will themselves be strengthened through solicited contributions and the plenaries.

Update: 23rd January 2011: New online abstract submission:

Hosted by
Turkish Social Sciences Association (TSSA)
Istanbul University
Research Center for Global Politics and Administration (GLOPAR)

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