This essay introduces a special issue on oeconomy during the second half of the long eighteenth century. In addition to summarizing the four contributions to the issue, it argues in favor of replacing common reference to ‘the economy’ with reference to the terminology, practices and ‘imaginaries’ which shaped both historical actors’ experiences and the history they made. Beginning with the proposition that ‘the economy’ was actually an invention which was introduced in the 1930s–1950s, this essay explores the various contextually framed ways in which oeconomy was practiced during the second half of the long eighteenth century. As part of the more general argument, the essay stresses the need to consider oeconomy as a set of practices (including conceptualization and communication), rather than as a prior concept or theory which could be applied to shape or explain activity. Among the practices it discusses, the essay includes a revised sense of the term ‘imagineering’.