The disinterested self: The idealized subject of life assurance

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In naming his satirical version of a life assurance company The Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company Dickens was aiming at an already well-established tendency for life assurance companies to stress in their promotional enterprises the altruistic character of their business. So disinterested was the Anglo-Bengalee that 'nobody can run any risk by the transaction except the office, which, in its great liberality is pretty sure to lose' (1994, p. 419). While few life assurance companies would have pushed the claim that far it is certainly the case that the idea of 'disinterestedness' played a peculiar role in the nineteenth century life assurance industry. This paper explores how life assurance companies sought to overcome concerns about the safety and propriety of their business by promulgating particular ideas about life assurance as a pious, self-'disinterested' form of conduct. Throughout the nineteenth century life assurance operated as an exemplary technique of liberal government by offering a means of market-based self-rule that depended heavily on an emergent form of knowledge which blended together impartiality, self-interest and disinterestedness (Poovey 1998).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-609
Number of pages19
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2007


  • Liberal government
  • Life assurance
  • Promotion
  • Self-interest


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