Internal economies : airs, bodies, and building technologies, 1832-1932




Frederick-Rothwell, Betsy

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In this dissertation, I posit that to fully understand the social, political, and economic valences of “air conditioning,” this spatial practice must be understood as a body technology not a building technology. As such, I contend that this technology’s form cannot be read separately from ideas of laboring bodies as constructed in classical liberal economic models and modes of production. Drawing on Foucault’s theory of “biopower,” I interpret British and American space conditioning methods as emerging techniques of governmentality that presuppose a particular system of relations between bodies and indoor environments. In constructing explanations of bodily autonomy in space, scientific and medical experts could invalidate workers’ demands for time and fulfil capitalists’ needs for productive bodies while reducing costs of incapacity. Within this investigation I challenge existing narratives that purport a decisive switch from the “failed” project of nineteenth-century ventilation to the triumphant ascent of twentieth-century refrigerated air conditioning. I argue that this shift from air to heat was not simply a matter of scientific “discovery” or the prerogative of equipment manufacturers, but rather a response to a material crisis in indoor industrial environments, when new and old forms of aerial contamination exceeded the economic will for its removal. Integral to this study is the discursive production of an individuated “modern” body based on a vitalist model that imagined a self-regulating and self-perpetuating unit that could maintain productivity and disease resistance with little support. Within this paradigm, the qualities of indoor air took on greater significance as preventive strategy. To trace this genealogy of airs and bodies, I examine the networks of political economists, chemists, physiologists, health administrators, engineers, and industrialists that looked first to botanical and then to thermodynamic models to further a vision of a society in which the state had minimal authority to regulate the interests of capital.



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