Insurance and Civil Society: Elements of an Ambivalent Relationship
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 July 2006
This article examines the history of the relationship between insurance and civil society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It tests the conventional narrative that this relationship followed an anticlimactic course, marked by the burgeoning of self-organised mutual societies in the nineteenth century and the decline and marginalisation of this sector of civil society owing to the rise of corporate insurance companies and statutory social insurance in the twentieth century. The article offers first a comparative analysis of nineteenth-century mutual insurance in different European countries (Britain, Germany, France and Switzerland), calling attention to limitations to the democratic and self-organised character of mutual associations. The second part of the article concentrates on a case study of twentieth-century corporate insurance in Switzerland, examining how life insurance companies dealt with customers and their personal data. The study indicates that insurance corporations adopted norms of extended privacy protection in the 1980s, a process that reflected new legal demands, customer claims and policies of civil rights organisations. The conclusion summarises the contradictory effects of insurance on the history of civil society and discusses the implications for the concept of civil society.
- Research Article
- Cambridge University Press 2006