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Accident SocietyFiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance$
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Jason Puskar

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780804775359

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804775359.001.0001

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The Insurance of the Real

The Insurance of the Real

(p.29) Chapter 1 The Insurance of the Real
Accident Society

William Dean Howells

Stanford University Press

This chapter focuses on the institutionalization of chance collectivity through the life insurance industry, which was first recognized by William Dean Howells in his 1890 novel, A Hazard of New Fortunes. Around 1890, insurance asserted a set of communitarian credentials that did not threaten to deepen the class divisions increasingly troubling to America after the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886. Insurance thus emerged as a valuable metaphor for Howellsian realism during the period. Insurance does not pretend to reform society, but to compensate for allegedly unpreventable losses. Along with the practical, compensatory functions of insurance, the industry exerted a more subtle but equally profound influence on Americans' consciousness of chance. This chapter explores the complicated dialectic between accidents and insurance. as well as Howells's proposed link between insurance and realism. It also discusses two important developments that helped the industry grow more stable: the improvement of statistical methods and state regulation.

Keywords:   chance, insurance, realism, chance collectivity, statistical methods, state regulation, A Hazard of New Fortunes, accidents, losses, insurance industry

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