Economic theory and technocratic policy have long understood economic action to be a communicative activity. From Pierre-Simon Laplace and Adam Smith to current liberalization fiscal policy in India designed to produce price signals and entrepreneurial behavior this conceptualization has been dominant. Instead this article draws on the anthropology of divination to argue that capitalist action is provoked by technologies of the imagination that generate speculation. These issues are explored in the context of changing forms of governance of the Hooghly riverine economy by bureaucrats in the Kolkata Port Trust. Through ethnography we track how public-private partnerships are forged by exemplary men, or seers, deploying divinatory action. The fortunes of business, trade, and the livelihoods of informalized workers rest on these practices, which generate short-term unstable forms of capital accumulation. Drawing on this case, we can potentially develop comparative critical approaches to the recent emergence of popularist speculators in India and elsewhere.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.