Social movements and industrial knowledge

Many of the political and cultural currents of the nineteenth century -from romanticism and utopianism to socialism and populism - also began as critical, oppositional, movements that later came to participate in reconstituting the form and content of socially organized knowledge.

A first cycle of social movements began in the early nineteenth century with some of the most dramatic conflicts over technology that have ever taken place: the Luddite revolts. In the newly industrializing districts of northern England there was a series of confrontations, in which craftsmen strategically attacked the machinery that they saw as responsible for their redundancy. In the 1810s, in the name of a mythical Ned Ludd, groups of artisans broke into factories and destroyed the spinning machines that were proving to be so economically beneficial in the textile industry, and the English army came out in force in order to impose the new mechanical order. Later, in the 1820s, bands of peasants and farm-workers followed their own mysterious leader - one Captain Swing - to lead them in attacking the new machines that were forcing them off the land and into the industrial cities with their factories (Thompson 1963; Sale 1996).

In literature, too, the mechanization that characterized the first wave of industrialization was rejected outright by many influential poets and writers. William Blake decried the "dark satanic mills" of the industrial cities and scorned the narrowness of the mechanical philosophy, while William Wordsworth and John Keats escaped from the emerging mechanical world into a world of beauty and passion, countering the coming of the machine with new forms of personal expression (Roszak 1973). Many were the romantics - in art, music, and everyday life, as well as in literature - who turned their backs on industrial society to gain inspiration from the wilderness or from the ideals of earlier, pre-industrial epochs. Perhaps the two most significant "experiments" were those of Mary Shelley and Henry David Thoreau. Shelley's 1819 literary experiment imagined the industrial world-view in the shape of a monster constructed by her mad Doctor Frankenstein; and Thoreau conducted his 1840s experiment in self-sufficiency by building, and living in, a hut at the edge of Walden Pond. He used the opportunity to reflect on the underlying meanings of the emerging industrial order, and provide what would become an exemplary model of ecological behavior (Thoreau 1963/1854; see Marx 1988).

The Romantic "revolt of the senses" - the personal, direct, opposition that was manifested in a range of different forms in the first half of the nineteenth century - was, of course, a broad social and cultural movement, and, like many movements before and since, it included new forms of knowledge-production and organization. In Britain, among the followers of the reforming industrialist Robert Owen, as well as in some of the "utopian communities" of North America, alternative, artisanal forms of production and manufacture were developed (Kingston 1976). In Denmark, the priest and historian N. F. S. Grundtvig initiated a new form of education by starting "people's high schools" in the countryside to provide an "education for life," as he called it, in opposition to the "dead" Latin education at the universities (Borish 1991). And in Britain and many other industrializing countries "Mechanics' Institutes" and adult education centers for studying the sciences were established in order to spread scientific and technical knowledge.

These alternative forms of knowledge production and education that developed in the early nineteenth century were often created in opposition to the professionalization of science and engineering that was taking place at the universities and the new technical colleges (Russell 1983). In many countries there were significant conflicts over how the new universities and technical faculties were to be organized. It has recently been shown, for example, that the founding in 1829 of the Polytechnical University, now Denmark's Technical University, involved a dispute between a science-based educational ideal favored by university professors, led by Hans Christian 0rsted, and an artisanal, "learning-by doing" approach favored by a technical publicist, G. F. Ursin (Wagner 1999).

The alternative technology movement of the early nineteenth century -a kind of artisanal polytechnical cognitive praxis, with links to Romantic ideals and cooperative forms of organization - was largely overtaken, or at least made problematic, by the course that technological development was to take. With the coming of the railroads and the telegraph, it became ever more difficult to escape from, or to develop an alternative to, the dominant industrial society. But throughout Europe and North America, some of the ideas of the "movement" did have impacts on the emerging industrial order and the professionalization of science that accompanied it (Mendelsohn 1964).

On the one hand, a form of romanticism which Alvin Gouldner has termed "popular materialism" became a part of scientific and broader cultural traditions in several European countries (Gouldner 1985). A romantic biology developed in the Germanic and Scandinavian countries, and new kinds of science - cell biology, biochemistry, and ecology - grew in the seeds planted by the Romantic movement. More generally, the very concept of culture, and the various practices of cultural criticism -in journalism, the arts and literature - can be seen as institutionalized forms of the romantic "revolt" (Williams 1963).

Positivism can also be seen as an institutionalization of that aspect of romanticism that glorified the sense perceptions and the experiential relations to nature. The turn to science and the development of an experimental natural science at the universities was, in many ways, an outgrowth of a romantic impulse, and the new "historical" sciences of geology and archeology and eventually evolutionary biology certainly owed something to the interest in the past that was so prominent in the romantic era (Hobsbawm 1962).

It was also under the influence of romanticism that technology was given a central place in the emerging social sciences, as well as in techniques of industrial management and organization. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, the "machinery question" shook British society and heavily influenced the development of political economy. It has been suggested that economics as an academic discipline, and the labor movement as a political force, were both formed largely as social responses to mechanization (Berg 1980). But in responding to mechanization the new institutions of social science and working-class organization also served to change the nature of the critique. From being a force of the devil and of mankind's darkest emotions, technology became a fundamental economic factor, or productive force, for "scientific" socialists like Marx and Engels, and a potential source for new forms of collective action for others, such as the craftsman revolutionary William Morris in Britain and the populist publicist Edward Bellamy in America.

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