Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 2

Thomas Finger, U of Virginia

“Harvesting Power: Food Energy, Human Labor, and the Industrial Revolution,”paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

human revolutions <> fuels
industrial society first needed unprecedented control over flows of wheat, food energy
achieved by Britain in C19
underscored power dynamics of global economy within that era
wheat as energy source necessary for industrialization
literally powering the economies of C19
power in energy system: bodily and brain power fed by grain >> factories and warehouses
Smith, Marx, Jevons: >> vast accumulation of wealth 
And then there’s the political economic power << control over flows of energy
I can’t do this second one full justice in a short paper
But I shall present three case studies
Image of C19 global wheat trade
Food riots a staple of England prior to 1800 but had disappeared by 1870
merchants, politicians, farmers, forged agreement to reduce food trouble by massive importation
simultaneous feeding and making of money
Georgian Food Riots
Development of Anglo-American grain trade
American farmer vs British laborer
James J. Hill as connective tissues between farmer and laborer

small mining community
eg surrounding Birmingham; town of Dudley in England
canals; prime mover of mining work (food) was often lacking
>> unsuitable for agriculure << pollution
look to regional and national markets
but focus of food distribution on large cities >> higher prices for such miners
1795 experience of successive years of below average wheat harvest, potential famine
spring 1795 said to be coldest on record; seeds froze in the ground; June frosts
>> widespread famine
intense riot. E.P. Thompson, it wasn’t wages but cost of bread that was the indicator of popular discontent
Black Country coal mine
colliers rose en masse during 1795, armed and began roaming countryside in search of food
>> drive up cost of coal; dampen industrial production
June 2: March to Dudley (market town since Middle Ages)
enacted the prescription for riot: sold cheap grain << roughing up merchants
next week: 2000 rioters at this one location, armed with bulldogs and rifles
searching corn mills
returned to mine pulling cartloads of seized wheat
systemic threat to emerging political economy
and war with France
these riots were essentially debates over power structures of energy
machines could not feed population growth >> death
many began to see cheap bread as the way to a peaceful workforce 
riot as symptom of tectonic shift << agricultural to mineral economy
crop failures in this period >> first huge imports of grain from USA
last famines in England
1810, 1811: Luddite revolts, machine breaking and food riots (led by general Ludd’s wife)
highest wheat prices ever! 
Peterloo Massacre 1819 began in part as a demo against the Corn Laws
Gillray: “Cut down those poor people, they are after your bread and pudding”
The hungry 40s <> Chartism
“knife and fork” questions such as suffrage
“the right to secure one’s access to a good coat, a good roof, and a good dinner”
Thomas Carlyle: blames rise of -isms << lack of guidance, shelter and food
shortages of food >> disparate communities find common language of hunger
Cobbett: “I defy you to agitate a fellow with a full stomach”
Food was stability 
Transatlantic trade in food >> superstructure for containing this instability
American farmer and British laborer worlds apart before this
but by 1880 they were in direct relationship
vast investment by British financiers in producing transportation structure and so on in the Midwest. He has lots of evidence
[again this is rocking for me; remember I started out studying this period]
By 1880 USA sends up to 25% of wheat crop to Britain 
>> less volatile working class than its counterpart in 1800
Corresponding Societies >> trade unions and friendly societies
the big origin was rising standard of living
cheap bread was now a given
There were crop failures in 1870s and 80s but not one single famine or food riot
American farmer fared less well, however. Compared to his partners in Africa he was wealthy. But there were some bad trade offs for wheat trade. Caught in cycle of spending and debt to keep up with international price structure
forced to take out loans to buy machines in the spring; massive plowing to try to produce a larger crop to increase likelihood of profits
every other farmer also increasing his acreage
compete with new type of farm on northern plains: IL vs Dakota (Bonanza Wheat Farm)
massive increase in scope of agriculture
these farms are plugged into industrial economy of Great Britain
Not a coincidence that greatest industrial increase <> Anglo-American grain trade (1850 to 1880)
workers could stay in city longer, negotiate longer contracts
by 1880s the British laborer had power over American farmer, systemic rather than embodied
a worldwide power; Mike Davis: rise of worldwide famines << subsistence farmers in Asia brought in to feed industrial labor
Richard Bensel, Yankee Leviathan: circulation of energy <> money
James J. Hill illustrates the synergy
he became an empire builder << wheat, owner of vast swathes of land
the Great Northern System
Western Minnesota and North Dakota: Bonanza Wheat Farms
hold on transportation. 1877 purchased St. Paul Pacific >> St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway
transported bulk of bonanza wheat
constructed transportation needed to control the grain
1880: marketed favorable prices to bonanza farmers
1884: 1/3 of entire wheat crop carried
1884 direct business relationship with two Liverpool grain firms
individuals could form personal power in larger network
lots of other examples
because grain trade was a trade to power individuals through energy consumption
reduction of inefficiencies and bottlenecks
embodied <> systemic power
eating ripples out through social structures
rioters can only control their body
Hill could extend his control over a vast system
Hill had better access to energy flows
But rioters were powerful: not about amplitude but change of relationships
British laborer had a systemic power over American farmer even though bodies separated

No comments: