Alexander B. Gordon
I am an anthropologist who studies the relationship between insurance and culture. My doctoral research project, The Insurance Ritual: How Carriers that Cover Write Languages that Indemnify, develops a general theory of insurance through an examination of one particular “exotic line” of indemnification: pollution liability insurance (also known as “environmental insurance”). While much of the academic scholarship on the topic of insurance has focused on the rise of actuarial science and the link between insurance markets and emerging technologies for calculating risk, in contrast, my research aims to bring attention to the mostly overlooked linguistic side of the insurance industry. To this end, I gather together two primary sources of evidence: first, the unpublished office papers of anthropologist, founder of linguistics, and Hartford Fire Insurance Company executive Benjamin Lee Whorf; and second, over two years of participant observation fieldwork conducted inside the Environmental Division of the global insurance broker Aon Plc in New York City. By connecting the business of environmental insurance to the themes and theories its practitioners set in motion, The Insurance Ritual demonstrates how insurance and insurance-related thinking have come to shape nearly every aspect of contemporary life.