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How Our Days Became NumberedRisk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual$
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Dan Bouk

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226259178

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226259208.001.0001

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(p.1) One Classing
How Our Days Became Numbered

Dan Bouk

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores the tension that existed in the late nineteenth century between life insurers’ efforts to class individuals into groups and their urge to smooth or average away individual difference. It focuses on the story of Thomas Scott Lambert and his company, American Popular Life, which emphasized the importance of medical classing over actuarial smoothing. The chapter explains Lambert’s business model, built around a medical analog to phrenology that he called biometry, and details the company’s collapse during the Panic of 1873 alongside many of its more conventional peers. It also considers how companies that survived the panic, including Mutual Life of New York and Metropolitan, decided to expand the reach of their companies and thus commodified and quantified many more Americans’ lives. Lambert’s trial for perjury frames the story.

Keywords:   Thomas Scott Lambert, American popular life, classing, smoothing, biometry, Mutual Life of New York, metropolitan, Panic of 1873, medical, actuarial

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