Abstract: Statistical Societies, Business Networks, and Academia

Victoria Barnes and Peter Wardley


This paper builds on previous studies of networks and their influence on business culture, practice, and values and extends this approach to investigate the linkages between professional associations and civic societies. Its primary focus is the Manchester Statistical Society, which was founded in 1833 and remains active today. Founded by a group of entrepreneurs, it underwent a series of mutations that reflected shared interests, collective objectives, and common aspirations. This paper demonstrates the significance of family ties among the business elite in civic societies in Manchester and also shows the extent to which these societies were more than merely social networks comprising business leaders and prominent citizens. Initially, speakers were gentleman scholars and business leaders. By 1900, papers tended to be given by academics and professional experts. With the identification of a web of activities and an enumeration of leading activists, we demonstrate the overlap between business, university, and civic societies. The Manchester Statistical Society provided a means for informal commercial education, served as a precursor to professional associations, and, in particular, promoted the creation of a university for Manchester. These developments influenced and were underpinned by laissez-faire economics, here epitomized by the "Manchester School."