The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry

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Abstract

The process commonly referred to as business-as-usual has given rise to dangerous climate change, but its social history remains strangely unexplored. A key moment in its onset was the transition to steam power as a source of rotary motion in commodity production, in Britain and, first of all, in its cotton industry. This article tries to approach the dynamics of the fossil economy by examining the causes of the transition from water to steam in the British cotton industry in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Common perceptions of the shift as driven by scarcity are refuted, and it is shown that the choice of steam was motivated by a rather different concern: power over labour. Turning away from standard interpretations of the role of energy in the industrial revolution, this article opens a dialogue with Marx on matters of carbon and outlines a theory of fossil capital, better suited for understanding the drivers of business-as-usual as it continues to this day.

Historical Materialism

Research in Critical Marxist Theory

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References

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1.

Ure 1835, p. 18.

2.

Babbage 1835, p. 18.

3.

Rosenberg 1994, p. 24. See also Schaffer 1994.

4.

See Weart 2003; Arrhenius 1896.

5.

Babbage 1835, p. 54.

6.

Boden, Marland and Andres 2011; Church 1986, p. 773; Cameron 1985, p. 12.

7.

Dearne and Branigan 1995.

8.

Nef 1966; Flinn 1984; Hatcher 1993.

11.

 Farey 1827, p. 13; emphasis in original.

12.

On steam engines in China, see Pomeranz 2000, pp. 61–2.

16.

For an excellent overview, see Barca 2011.

17.

Wrigley 1962.

18.

Wrigley 1962, p. 1. See further Wrigley 1972; Wrigley 1988; Wrigley 1990; Wrigley 2000; Wrigley 2004; Wrigley 2010.

20.

Ricardo quoted in Wrigley 2010, pp. 10–11. The quotation also appears in Wrigley 1988, p. 36; Wrigley 1990, pp. 49–50; Wrigley 2000, pp. 128–9; twice in Wrigley 2004, pp. 55, 72.

21.

 Wrigley 2010, p. 174.

22.

Wrigley 2010, p. 99.

23.

Sieferle 2001, pp. 102–3; Malanima 2006, p. 104.

24.

For example, Wrigley 2010.

25.

Wilkinson 1973, pp. 4–5, 19–52. ‘Every animal population’: Wilkinson 1973, p. 20.

26.

Wilkinson 1973, p. 76.

27.

Wilkinson 1973, p. 101.

28.

Wilkinson 1973, p. 112.

29.

Wilkinson 1973, p. 115.

30.

Wilkinson 1973, pp. 126, 134.

32.

Thomas 1985, p. 729; emphasis added.

33.

Wrigley 1962, p. 12.

34.

Wrigley 2010, p. 100.

35.

Wilkinson 1973, p. 120; emphases added.

36.

Pomeranz 2000, p. 61.

37.

See, for example, Tann 1970.

39.

Wrigley 2000, p. 139; Wrigley 2010, pp. 193, 191.

40.

Wilkinson 1973, pp. 90, 102.

41.

Pomeranz 2000, p. 207; emphasis in original.

43.

Wrigley 2010, p. 209.

44.

Sieferle 2001, p. 121.

45.

Marshall 1957; Chapman 1971, pp. 5–6. On Arkwright and steam, see Fitton 1989; Tann 1973a.

48.

Letter quoted in Tann 1973b, p. 220. This particular manufacturer was in the woollen industry, but his objections summarised those ‘of many small clothiers to steam power at the turn of the century’ (ibid.). Compare Musson and Robinson 1959, pp. 423–4; Hills 1970, p. 145.

49.

Quoted in Briggs 1982, p. 57.

51.

 Allen 2009, p. 172.

52.

Gordon 1983, p. 243.

53.

Gordon 1983, p. 256.

54.

Shaw 1984, p. 544.

56.

Chapman 1971, p. 12.

58.

Kanefsky 1979, p. 141.

59.

Kanefsky 1979, p. 142.

61.

 Chapman 1971, p. 13.

62.

Parliamentary Papers 1833a, p. D2.132; emphasis added (John Cheetham).

63.

Parliamentary Papers 1833a, p. D1.16.

64.

Parliamentary Papers 1833a, p. D2.99.

65.

Ure 1835, p. xlvii.

66.

Rose 1986, p. 42. On the size of the firm, see for example Ure 1835, p. 347.

68.

Chapman 1971, p. 18.

69.

von Tunzelmann 1978, p. 130.

70.

von Tunzelmann 1978, p. 136.

71.

Kanefsky 1979, p. 175.

72.

Kanefsky 1979, p. 176; emphasis added.

74.

Farey 1827, pp. v–vi.

75.

Farey 1827, p. 7; emphasis added.

76.

McCulloch 1833, p. 323; emphasis added. Compare The Circulator of Useful Knowledge, Literature, Amusement, and General Information 1825; McCulloch 1835, p. 457.

77.

Kennedy 1818, pp. 10, 15–16.

78.

Jevons 1866, pp. 150–1.

79.

Fairbairn 1864, p. 67.

86.

Boyson 1970, pp. 141–55.

87.

Parliamentary Papers 1835, pp. 344–50.

88.

Parliamentary Papers 1835, pp. 346–7.

89.

Rose 1986, pp. 39, 43, 55; Owens 2011, p. 74.

90.

See Boyson 1970.

92.

Quoted in Fitton 1989, p. 151. See further Lee 1972.

93.

Parliamentary Papers 1834, p. D1.206 (James Fernley). On the self-acting mule, see Catling 1970; on the power-loom, see Bythell 1969.

101.

Adapted and developed from Smil 2008, p. 204; Sieferle 2001, pp. 124–5; Debeir, Deléage and Hémery 1991, p. 102.

102.

Cooke Taylor 1843, p. 156.

103.

Parliamentary Papers 1834, p. D1.301.

104.

Parliamentary Papers 1833a, pp. C2.65–6.

105.

Shaw 1984, p. 481.

106.

von Tunzelmann 1978, pp. 154, 170.

107.

Parliamentary Papers 1833a, p. 10.

108.

Parliamentary Papers 1834, p. C1.19 (J. Whitaker); emphases added.

109.

Parliamentary Papers 1833a, p. C2.66.

111.

See, for example, Horner 1834. For the history of factory legislation and the factory movement, see for example Gray 1996; Ward 1962.

112.

Parliamentary Papers 1840, pt. 1, pp. 5, 9.

113.

Marvel 1977. On the prosecution of the Act, see also Peacock 1984; Bartrip 1985; Nardinelli 1985; Peacock 1985.

116.

Parliamentary Papers 1833b, p. D2.49 (Charles Hindley).

117.

Compare von Tunzelmann 1978, p. 225; Allen 2009, pp. 173, 177.

119.

  Babbage 1835, p. 49; emphasis added.

120.

Alderson 1834, p. 44; emphasis added.

121.

  Fairbairn 1861, p. 9; Stuart 1824, p. 192; emphases added.

122.

   Farey 1827, p. 13.

123.

Arago 1839, p. 147. On this as the first biography of Watt, see Hills 2006, pp. 175–7.

124.

Kanefsky 1979, pp. 254–5, 281–90, 301; Journal of the Statistical Society of London 1838; Gatrell 1977, p. 101.

125.

Allen 2009, pp. 172–3, 177–9; Lloyd-Jones and Lewis 1998, p. 70; Fairbairn 1864, p. 67. There were, of course, a whole spectrum of branches that had yet to be mechanised. See, for example, Samuel 1977; Greenberg 1982.

126.

Mitchell 1984, p. 1.

127.

Mitchell 1984, p. 12.

128.

Church 1986, p. 27.

129.

Pollard 1980; Mitchell 1984, pp. 7, 23–31; Church 1986, pp. 28–9; Flinn 1984, p. 26; Church 1986, p. 3.

130.

Farey 1827, p. 225; emphasis added.

131.

McCulloch 1837, p. 2.

132.

Jevons 1866, p. viii.

133.

Wrigley 1990, p. 75. Compare Wrigley 1972, p. 249.

134.

Marx 1990, pp. 562–3.

136.

Marx 1992, p. 120. Compare Marx 1992, pp. 114–15.

138.

Marx 1993, p. 646.

141.

Marx 1990, p. 288.

142.

Marx 1992, pp. 177, 111.

143.

Marx 1993, p. 90; emphasis added.

144.

Marx 1992, p. 208.

145.

Engels 2009, p. 34.

146.

Storper and Walker 1989, pp. 140–5; Smith 2008, p. 116; Harvey 1999, pp. 381–4.

147.

Compare Lefebvre 1991, p. 319; Harvey 1999, pp. 398–405; Smith 2008, pp. 166, 182.

148.

Lefebvre 1991, p. 49.

149.

Lefebvre 1991, p. 101.

150.

Compare the argument made in Mitchell 2011, especially Chapter 1.

151.

Postone 1993, pp. 201–2.

152.

Thompson 1967, p. 78. Compare Ingold 1995.

153.

Postone 1993, pp. 210–12; Thompson 1967, pp. 61, 90–1.

154.

Postone 1993, pp. 202, 214–15.

155.

Marx 1990, p. 534; emphasis added.

156.

Marx 1991b, p. 335.

157.

Castree 2009, p. 27; emphasis in original.

159.

Marx 1991a, pp. 779–81; emphasis added.

160.

Marx 1991a, p. 784; emphases added.

161.

Marx 1991a, pp. 784–5.

162.

Arago 1839, p. 150.

164.

Malm 2012b.

169.

On Desertec, see for example Clery 2010.

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