SESSION 09. Global Cultures of Risk: Insurance in Non-Western Contexts (1870–1980)

9. Global Cultures of Risk: Insurance in Non-Western Contexts (1870–1980).

Martin Lengwiler (University of Basel)
Robin Pearson (Hull University Business School).


The session contributes to the growing body of research into the institutional and cultural conditions of globalisation. Taking insurance as a representative branch of the tertiary sector, it analyses the expansion of the service sector into non-Western markets. The period investigated stretches from the 1870s to the 1970s. Geographically, the project focuses on three regions: the Middle East (with a focus on Turkey in the late Ottoman period and the early Republic), Asia (South, South-East, and East Asia, focusing on India, China and the Philippines), and sub-Saharan Africa (with a focus on Nigeria, Cameroon, and the activities of international organisations in the region). The session highlights the concept of cultures of risk as an analytic tool for understanding the institutional and cultural conditions of non-Western approaches to risk. How did Western and non-Western insurance companies deal with the cultural contexts of non-Western regions and markets? How did they sell their intangible services in foreign markets?


Paper 1

Insuring Lives in Anatolia. British and French Life Insurance in Turkey, 1890–1940.

Claus Musterle (Department of History, University of Basel)

The paper investigates the activities of British and French life insurers in Anatolia between 1890 and 1940. As it was integrating into the world economy of the outgoing 19th century, the heartland of the Ottoman Empire rapidly became a prime destination for life offices. Amongst these, British and French insurers figured most prominently. Mobilising a mixed body of corporate and institutional sources as well as specialist literature, composed in English, French, and Turkish, the paper pursues a twofold goal. Firstly, it seeks to shed light on the genesis of a Turkish market for life insurance through an analysis of the interplay between British and French insurers, on the one hand, and Ottoman as well as Turkish actors, both institutional and corporate, on the other. In so doing, it simultaneously aims at broadening our understanding of an industry precociously, albeit not without difficulty, expanding on a global scale. A first host of questions hence primarily focuses on aspects relating to the operations of British and French companies from a corporate and technological perspective. Why and how did British and French insurers expand into the Ottoman market? What strategies informed their expansion? How did they respond to changing conditions such as novel legal constraints and competition from local companies founded jointly or in cooperation with European insurers? What strategies did they pursue, individually or jointly, in order to retain market leadership? Last but not least, how did they react to the rising tide of economic nationalism, particularly pronounced in the early years of the nascent Republic?


Paper 2

Early marine and property insurance in South-East Asia through to 1914.

Robin Pearson / N.N. (University of Hull, UK)

This paper examines, for the first time, the development of fire and marine insurance in South and South-East Asia from the early nineteenth century through to the First World War. Based on the private records of British insurance companies operating in the region, the paper identifies three stages of development and explores reasons for the slow growth that characterised much of the agency business of British insurance during the era of high imperialism. The primary conclusions are that a willingness to ignore evidence about the level of hazard and the probability of loss, and ‘Orientalist’ attitudes that privileged a discourse of ‘Otherness’, generally trumped rational risk assessment by Western underwriters. The zoning and exclusions imposed on Asian cities did not reflect the reality of fire hazards. The underwriting ‘expertise’ acquired by UK insurers in Asia was based largely on trial and error, and on binary concepts of Oriental backwardness versus Western ‘modernity’. It was also informed by corporate memories of insuring novel and difficult hazards in early industrial Britain.


Paper 3

Development through insurance. The formation of an insurance industry in sub-Saharan Africa (World War I to 1970s).

Martin Lengwiler / N.N. (Department of History, University of Basel)

The third paper focuses on the impact of insurance on the economic and social development of sub-Saharan Africa. The period examined stretches from WWI, when colonial powers began to invest into policies of economic and social reform, throughout the period of decolonisation up to the early 1980s and the advent of the debt crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. With this timeline spanning pre- and post-independence eras, the subproject also aims at analysing the role of decolonisation for the development of the African insurance industry. The paper focuses on the policies of international organisations in sub-Saharan Africa in general (League of Nations, International Labour Organisation, United Nations, in particular UNCTAD) and on two African countries in particular, Nigeria and Cameroon, both of which emerged as significant insurance markets and locations of crucial organisations for African insurance. Thus, the paper reflects important institutional changes. On an international level, the United Nations, especially since 1964 in the context of the United Nation Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), offered countries of the Global South a platform for their concerns. In fact, UNCTAD launched an insurance programme trying to foster African insurance markets and economic growth by producing policy analyses, helping bilateral negotiations, and offering training programmes and advice on regulatory frameworks and international standards, all the while supporting technical co-operation and public-private collaborations. Similarly, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the African Development Bank, supported by Western reinsurers (like Swiss Re), initiated the formation of an African reinsurance network, a process that led to the foundation of Africa Re in 1976, indirectly also the African Insurance Organisation.


Paper 4

The Development of insurance in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey.

Dr. A. Samim Unan, academic

The development of private insurance in the Ottoman Empire and later in Turkey is an interesting topic because its study helps understand why in cultures other than Western world cultures private insurance is regarded with suspicion.

The first part of the contribution will focus on the Ottoman Empire approach and practice through insurance companies having close ties with Europe. The second part will focus on private insurance company practices in the Republic of Turkey founded in 1923 after the Independence War.


Paper 5

Iranian Insurance market and Economic growth: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis.

Sarvenaz Darvari (Islamic Azad University)

This paper investigates the relationship between insurance development and economic growth by employing GMM models for the period 2010-2014. Insurance density is used to measure the development of insurance. Controlled by a simple conditioning information set and a policy information set, we can draw a conclusion that insurance development is positively correlated with economic growth. For the developing economies, the overall insurance development, life insurance and non-life insurance development play a much more important role than they do for the developed economies. Using the difference GMM estimation technique, we find a strong evidence of a positive and significant effect from the insurance activities on economic growth.
Keywords: insurance development; economic growth; developing economies