Papers presented by Elin Åström Rudberg since 2019

2023 Detroit, MI, United States

"The concept of fair competition in business history "

Elin Åström Rudberg, Stockholm University


A belief in the positive effects of competition has become a powerful creed for governments all over the world since at least the end of the Second World War. While recent research in business history has investigated the ideas, policies, and company strategies in relation to this “competition ideal”, this paper provides an analysis of a less studied, but historically significant aspect of competition; the idea of fair competition. In parallel to the emergence of the competition ideal, there existed an equally important belief in fairness, relating to normative and cultural understandings of the effects of rules or practices on different market actors. In Europe, many countries implemented so-called “unfair competition laws” from the late nineteenth century onward, which were reactions to the competitive forces and aimed to protect individual competitors from “unfair” business practices. Unfair competition laws have been studied mostly in the field of law, but we know much less about the broader, historical meaning of fair (and unfair) competition at the nexus between business and policymaking. In the paper, I use methods from conceptual history in analyzing the origins and development of the concept of fair competition from the late nineteenth century into the middle, and the last half of the twentieth century. I consult a broad array of sources such as encyclopedias, academic and popular books, and reports to track the concept over time and assess what fair competition implied historically and how it related to the competition ideal. As such, the paper also contributes to the wider debate about the role and influence of historically shaped cultural norms on markets and businesses.