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The Stock Exchange Men and Their Marvellous Instruments: price-recording technologies, knowledge and the origins of modern market organisation

Dr Alex Preda
Department of History and Sociology, University of Konstanz
Email: Alex.Preda@uni-konstanz.de|

Date: 25 February 2003
Time: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Venue
: CARR Seminar Room, H615

Abstract

A key aspect of modern financial markets is given by securities prices as standardised, easily available, real-time information. This informational character entirely depends on price-recording technologies. I examine here the emergence of price-recording technologies in the later nineteenth century, the cognitive and cultural assumptions of these technologies, how they changed financial markets, the risk and regulatory issues they raised. Using an approach developed in the sociology of knowledge and science, I argue that price-recording technologies have consequences which go well beyond the mere increase in speed and efficiency.

Nowadays, only one of these technologies survives in its electronic form-the ticker. In the 1860s, however, several price-recording technologies were developed, working on quite different principles. Along with varieties of the stock ticker, developed in North America, there was the "pantograph" developed and used on the Paris Bourse. The "pantograph" worked like a primitive fax machine (a chemical telegraph), while the stock ticker was a mechanical telegraph. Their cognitive and cultural assumptions, way of working, and effects were quite different, although they were conceived to answer similar needs. Technically speaking, the "pantograph" was universally acknowledged at the time as the more sophisticated machine, with some clear technical advantages in transmission. Dr Preda examines how the ticker became dominant and how it changed the ways in which financial markets work. From its inception, the ticker raised organisational, regulatory, and control issues and provoked social conflicts at the Stock Exchange. The regulatory and control issues which emerged with the ticker can still be found in contemporary financial markets.

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