Sunday, 5 April 2015

Faltering Forward - Human Capital, Manchester and Industry

In this article,  the industrial revolution will be considered a process of division when approaching the concept of  ‘work’ – ultimately developing and advancing itself through exacerbating the needs and vulnerabilities of people in society. In this article, Manchester will be explored as a case study

When one is presented  with ether term ‘industrial revolution’, it is easy to assume a time of positive progress, especially when bolstered by statistics. In the late 18th and early 19th century,  as industry grew, it could be seen as easy to view the situation in regards to material – between 1809 and 1839 imports nearly doubled, from £28.7 million to £52 million. Externally, this increase can be portrayed as positive – but in another sense, could be seen as negative in terms of the rise of a greater dependency. In this light this article will explore the relationships of divisions and contradictions on which the industrial revolution can appear based, and the impact this had on the psyche.

Manchester's linkages of Bee and Industry
 After all, it could appear that industry was developing its own code of morality, in an attempt to find
man’s place within this hive of statistics and activity. It seems almost appropriate then  that the Bee rose as a prime example of  the industrial ethic-  indeed becoming  the symbol of Boddington’s Brewery in Manchester and still evident as a kind of graffiti throughout the city. These terms seem to have a kind of contradiction about them in themselves – imagery or graffiti? Articulating a mind or showing dissent?  In this article I will attempt to explore how the rise of the industrial revolution drove the idea of human capital and division then, rather than unity.

Like a worker bee, people strived for some supreme object- like the queen, they typically never would see.

Interestingly also, ‘human capital’ has become a term applied since   to the era – representing another divide, that between past and present.  In one definition, human capital is a collection of resources – talents, knowledge, skills etc. possessed by the individual which would have been felt immediately at the time. The indeterminacy here as to what composes the definition itself  expresses an issue.  Indeed, we look back upon the industrial revolution as the ‘past’; where capital is a stock of knowledge and experience  embodied in the ability to complete labour and in turn produce economic value. Whereas man’s capabilities may have once been valued by himself, they were now valued, even quantified, by an impersonal presence.

A process built upon division?

It is it a case of over-analysis to see industrialisation  as a process driven, even encouraged, by division? It is often discussed how the industrial revolution changed the British landscape – and this is true in one sense, with rapidly expanding cities and factory buildings unlike anything people had seen before. However, this  could be seen as prompted by prior landscape change, involving the increases in the amount of land under cultivation, peaking in 1872 at 9.6 million acres. Yet with an ever-increasing population driven by a lower mortality rate,  Britain was increasingly moving away from subsistence farming to farming for something bigger. What was ‘conventional’ was being divided. This could be seen as in the rise of the enclosure - The term “Enclosure” is used to explain the process of appropriation of former common lands, now to be employed under some greater motive in line with desired productivity. People  no longer defined their own lives and tilled the land they pleased, instead there were given instruction and limits in terms of their interaction with nature; this was ‘progress’. This could be seen as  embodied in the form of the cotton gin – an innovative tool which  massively increased the productivity of the worker with minimal exertion on their part.

Is the bee centring on the waste of life or a sign of its productivity? 

But  had the commercialisation of agriculture led to something cold? Was this bigger ‘progress’ even tangible? The rise of commercial farming saw planting become a public activity rather than rendered by personal decision (as in the past of ‘cottage’ farming), as ultimately for ‘public’ rather than personal use, supplying a growing ‘workforce’. However, Britain’s own farms could not actually fully maintain this – and Britain began to increasingly import goods also, though it had the money to do so, and thus attempted to glorify the concept.

What was emerging increasingly through food imports and free trade philosophies though, was that   the number of farm labourers dropped – what was human worth  became invested in capital rather than rural communities.  The fuel for power could be sourced outside, and now man became a component of power, rather than controlling it. For example a growing population as part of this global system led to an increased demand for coal, and by the later 19th century Between 1860 and 1900, the number of miners increased from 307,000 to 820,000. People were driven out of the house and underground, and this could appear an appropriate metaphor for ‘workers’ as part of the industrial revolution.   Thus not only drawing to an end with subsistence farming but an end of the ‘cottage’ lifestyle and family farming – men and women were increasingly differentiated, and became a ‘workforce’ – often unseen, yet instrumental. As part of this, new states of the mind and activity were accustomed, for example the concept of the ‘working week’  was introduced and in turn, the division between ‘public’ and ‘private’.


Division and differentiation could be seen as accelerating as terms, in order for the ‘stock  of human capital’; to be improved. Not only was man expected to divide between home and life, but contend with local investors and long-term creditors. They were  meant to develop then to answer questions asked of them, but not ask themselves. In turn, this could be seen as a process  of conditioning of the human capital to become responsive, rather than reactive. Workers were seen as holding a ‘growth inducing’ role if they advanced within their area of industry, and were blamed if they failed to live up the requirements of industry. In turn, whereas man had once worked machinery and controlled it in the fields i.e. the plough, machinery now controlled man – and this may well have  been experienced as shocking.

Bee mosaic on the floor of Manchester Town Hall
Manchester as what Assa Briggs called a ‘shock city’; could have appeared to encapsulate ‘shock’ in
the form of embodying contradictions and divisions as already raised in this essay.  At the forefront of the cotton trade, with frequent connections to America, there had been rising factory numbers in order to process this number – and in turn, increased imports in the UK as a whole to satisfy a larger working population. The city itseld became known as 'Cottonpolis'  from 1750 onwards, embracing the steps from water to steam power with cotton as the primary raw material in use. However, although this represented ‘progress’ in one sense for Manchester, on the otherhand, there were food riots as early as 1797; aggravated by an increasing immigrant population also – with about 15% of workers anticipated to be Irish, moving from their native country during the  famine. It could appear that measures were taken then in an attempt to address these issues properly – a repeal of the Corn Laws, which in theory protected British businesses from imports.  In reality, they placed greater pressure then upon the output of labourers – wanting capital to increase further, regardless of declines in living standards. After all, in 1816, the were was what became to be known as ‘the year without summer’ reaching into the  London Spa Fields riots of 1816. The transportation connections then, can be seen on one hand as positive, could be used to then to also communicate with and join pockets of dissent, with the Manchester Peterloo Massacre occurring in 1819.

In this light, considering discontent and geographical factors, the layout of Britain, especially the North of England ,was heavily affected, This was seen and felt acutely in Manchester,  as the population increased, the densely packed city became less desirable and  a key spatial effect was that the growth of urban areas, showed a system of economic cores and peripheries. Those who take a structuralist view of this system  argue that the growth of the core – like the Ancoats area in Manchester, where many factories were located , is only possible through the underdevelopment systemically , of the periphery. Theorists such as Walerstein have argued this – appearing to imply that human discontent was a necessary part of driving the industrial revolution forward; in terms of providing heavy enough demand. And this could be seen as not only the case of Manchester but across the UK – such as whilst 80% of the population were rural-based even in 1780, by 1880 the population was 80% urban. The pulling away from the country and instead commuting within cities leads to a profound compromisation of personal space; which in the case of industrial Manchester was aggravated by zonation and the popularity of Laissez Faire economic outlook.

Yet these structures could be seen as emphasizing divide more than solving it – private struggles often became public matters. This included questioning and the acquiring of knowledge – as many more universities opened public facilities at this time, and the mechanics institute in Manchester itself grew. However, a key point was that proceeding into the 19th century, the Mechanics Institute began to dwindle in terms of attendee numbers, so efforts were taken to make a more public involvement;  becoming the Royal Victoria Gallery of Sciences. In itself ‘gallery’ suggests an element of the visual and/or display, emphasizing  again the noticeable theme of projecting a facade – putting forward what people wanted to see, rather than what was the actual reality.

Projection rather than reality could be seen as the case in terms of Manchester’s acute sanitary conditions also– in 1831 less than half the population had actual access to fresh water, whilst in 1865 it, in responding to this pressure, was the only city outsourcing. This statistic itself suggests not only that man became to be associated with number,  but also it was opportunities of human struggle and dissatisfaction which allowed the ‘industrial revolution’ to exhibit itself. For example, outsourcing  was  presented as a form of ‘progress’, when really actually attending to a desperate and dire need.

Therefore, this article explores the  contradictions of the industrial revolution, the divisions it exposed and aggravated in its indeterminacy and the pressure this placed upon the psyche. Through the study of Manchester especially, expressed by the symbol of the bee – a  key contradiction could appear true: that in enabling himself, man is also disabled. This could be seen as poignantly reflected in Thomas Hardy’s poem  ‘The Voice’, written closely to the turn of the twentieth century and reflecting upon the apparent industrial bleakness and man's place within it as ‘faltering forward’ – progress for the big sacrifices them small.  Indeed, Like the worker bee  works to feed the queen, yet slowly dies in the process.  These aspects of disintegration could appears  in the plan for enclosure  rather than personal power, fossil fuels for animate power – ultimately opening  up the prospect of an unlimited supply of energy.  This in turn places the expectation upon man as part of generating capital, a means to an end, rather than the end in itself.  It could be argued that this is a pressure ever-present, even today yet  so difficult to define, and thus assigned to other attributes to which people at the time could attach themselves – especially the concept of the protestant Work ethic. In this light, the industrial revolution, especially in the North, could be seen as driven by divide rather than a solidarity. Whether that makes it more or less of a revolution is potentially open to debate.