England and the Machinery of Reason 1780 to 1830

England and the Machinery of Reason 1780 to 1830

Ashworth, William J.

Canadian Journal of History, vol. 35:1 (2000)


The status of the machine and the application of an accompanying form of reason was an ambiguous subject in late eighteenth-century England. As Larry Stewart has recently shown, the meaning of machines was mutable, ambivalent and fiercely contested during this period. Maxine Berg has meanwhile demonstrated that it played an integral role in forging the new discipline of political economy during the first half of the following century. Building on their work, this essay attempts to further illuminate the impact of the machine on England during this period. In particular, it seeks to reveal how it informed a particular notion of intelligence, inspired the mechanisation of social punishment, and, lastly, helped define work practices and arrangements at the vanguard of English industry. Within these areas a dominant set of objectives came to the fore, namely, visibility, economy, order and predictability. I use the phrase machinery of reason to capture these imperatives.

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