Social practices and technical disorder in the 19th Century

Departing from whiggish grand narratives of innovation, the special issue of the Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle will analyze the social uses and processes of co-construction of technology and society.

Although historical literature has mostly produced views on the rise of new technologies, recent studies have offered new perspectives on the social uses of things and the role of technology in the everyday fashioning of social order. Inspired by the sociology of science, the SCOT programme (Social Construction of Technology), based on the study of individual items, greatly contributed to this new point of view, discussing how technologies were socially defined and constructed. This constructivist turn, which took place in the 1980s, strongly influenced French pragmatic sociology, with greater attention on actors and their agencies. In this context, technology became a new and richer instrument to understand the social and political order. New research in social science, questioning technological practices, has flourished (Gilbert Simondon, Bruno Latour…). However, it paradoxically remains underrepresented in 19th century studies, technology being appended to economic and industrial history.

Yet, the nineteenth century underwent a fast-growing spread of technological equipment, as well as faith in technology and its liberal endowment, which thus became characteristic to advanced capital societies. In addition, 19th century everyday life was dramatically changed by technological items.

Internalist studies of structures and “technological systems” (BertrandGilles) have become one way to analyze technology experienced in everyday life, through the analysis of social actors, representations, practices and negotiations. Social studies used new methodologies, such as direct or participant observation, frame and interaction analysis, or had recourse to family or life histories. Historians developed new thinking on tools and methodology implied by technological study: it supposed the taking into consideration of common people’s creativity and the ongoing tricks they employed to make their way into the crowd of goods (Michel de Certeau). In this perspective, technological items and their systems dynamically acquired identities through their uses and forms. Contrasting with the dominant perspective of possession, dominant in material culture studies until recently, consumption studies have recently analyzed the successive mutations of artefacts, from their trade to their social uses, and, extending 18th century studies on uses of technology, have underlined their marketing, retailing and publicity.

In terms of space, devices circulated between the public and domestic spheres, with that of labour. It also circulated at local or international scale, in rural areas, colonial or extra-European regions. The special issue aims at presenting new ways of writing the history of technology, between technological theories and social practices. Methodological shifts and original documentation – private and trade archives – or new approaches to classic sources for historians of technology – adverts, textbooks or patents.

Three main areas, as well as cross-sections, will be privileged:

Social practices and technologies at work

Diversions, bypassing, odd jobs and other social practices that shaped the daily uses of technologies in workshops, factories, canteens will be analyzed.

  • Invisible or discreet innovations (adaptations of machines to singular uses, diversions of normalized procedures…)
  • Technologies of order and disorder in workshops (clockworks, bells, fences and others tools for the control of behaviours)
  • Noises and smells of technology; hygienic artefacts
  • Gender and generation differentiation in the tools and machines’ -Work on the side, resistances, recoveries…

Practices of artefacts in the domestic sphere

Questions about technologies in the domestic sphere can also help to think about daily life social practices:

  • Home artefacts (sewing machines, washing machines, amateurs’ machines…)
  • Building apparatus (hygienic equipments, heating systems, lightings, safety devices…)
  • Body and medical equipments, clothing (corsets, opera hats…)…
  • Technological and scientific toys
  • Attempts for reforming daily life, in particular in utopian experiences (phalansteries, familistères…)

Techniques and narratives

Following Stephen Bann or Jonathan Crary, papers will analyze the numerous cross-sections between the arts, shows, narratives and technology.

  • Copy, reproduction… (tour à portraits, photography, oleography, Collas’ system of reduction, photosculpture, casts…)
  • Machinery of art (pantographs, cameras, photographic devices…)
  • Narrative machines (stereoscopes, magic lanterns, cinematographs…)
  • Writing and printing (writing, filing, counting, copying, duplicating…)
  • Amateurs’ artefacts (pyrography, cameras…)
  • Communication apparatuses (the telegraph, the telephone…)
  • Sound and music tools (phonographs, pianola…)…

Contributions will be sent to Manuel Charpy and François Jarrige : [email protected] and [email protected]

· February 28, 2011: deadline for proposal submission (5,000 characters max.)

· September 2011: workshop in Paris, with discussants · Publication: late 2012