Health & efficiency : fatigue, the science of work and the working body in Britain, c.1870-1939

Blayney, Steffan (2017) Health & efficiency : fatigue, the science of work and the working body in Britain, c.1870-1939. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

Between 1870 and 1939, ideas of health and the body in Britain were reshaped according to the ideal of efficiency. From the late nineteenth century, a new science of work emerged with the aim of optimising the physical and mental capacities of the working population. Coming to prominence during the First World War through the work of the Health of Munition Workers Committee, it reached its zenith during the interwar period. At the centre of this new science was the problem of fatigue: the declining capacity of human body to perform labour. Barely mentioned in scientific or medical texts before the 1860s, the last decades of the nineteenth century saw a proliferation of attempts to define, describe, measure and control both physical and mental fatigue. In the twentieth century, fatigue research entered the factory in the form of “industrial physiology” and “industrial psychology”. Drawing on the work of François Guéry and Didier Deleule, I argue that these sciences are best understood as technologies of the “productive body”. The worker was an object for medico-scientific intervention only insofar as they represented a constituent part of the machinery of industrial labour, while the individual body was, in turn, reimagined as a productive system in microcosm. The science of work – and the commodified cultures of self-optimisation which increasingly accompanied it in the twentieth century – promised to produce bodies which were docile, efficient and productive. This project, however, was not always successful. Scientific approaches to work were constantly shaped by the threat of worker resistance. For some workers, the physical and mental effects of work – their embodied and affective responses to its scientific rationalisation – formed the basis of an oppositional politics. Whereas for some the working body was an object of control, for others it was a site of resistance.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: This thesis is not currently available for public use.
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy > History, Classics & Archaeology
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 17 Apr 2018 11:25
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2018 11:25
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/329

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