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The Writing Workshop of François Quesnay and the Making of Physiocracy

Christine Théré and Loïc Charles ()

History of Political Economy, 2008, vol. 40, issue 1, 1-42

Abstract: Using archival materials, we investigate the scientific practices of François Quesnay and the individuals who worked with him in relation to their social background. Our contention is that, before 1764, the group of authors who shared Quesnay's commitment to an agrarian economic theory are best described as the “writing workshop” of François Quesnay rather than as the “physiocratic” school. Quesnay organized and supervised the work of these individuals, who assisted him in a manner clearly reminiscent of that of workshops of artists from late medieval and early modern Europe. On the one hand, Quesnay tightly controlled the work of those (the Marquis de Mirabeau, Pattullo, Du Pont de Nemours) who published economic writings, correcting and even rewriting whole parts of their texts. On the other hand, he commanded other writers/individuals to collect data and execute and verify calculations, most notably for his tableaux économiques. In other words, the production of political and economic writings was structured by a detailed division of labor organized by Quesnay, who acted as the master of a writing workshop. After the death of Madame de Pompadour, Quesnay's prominent patroness, in 1764, the situation changed. Quesnay's aura of power at court disappeared and with it, his writing workshop. The center of gravity of physiocracy moved from Versailles to Paris, and the workshop was gradually replaced by the physiocratic school.

Keywords: François Quesnay; physiocracy; tableaux économiques (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2008
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