Art History & Communication Studies
Winter 2014 Speaker Series
Department of History and Politics, Drexel University, Philadelphia PA
Go/No-Go: Measurement, Inscription, and the Legible Industrial Worker
The visual and tactile efforts that constitute modern industrial labor reproduce famously durable social structures. From around 1880 onward, the shop-floor workers, supervisors, and design engineers employed in North American manufacturing increasingly deployed rulers, gages, calipers, bevels and other standardized instruments. Those acts of measurement and comparison, described in this paper, subjected raw materials and finished products to inspection in a sweeping positivist linkage of perception and certainty. They also enlisted workers into the capitalist rationality of stratified wage labor, with variable “capacities” for vision or touch ascribed to each occupational level. Industrial instruments, inscriptions, products and bodies made perfect sense of one another. We follow these layered technical, representational and social processes through to the current day, as they prove themselves now exquisitely suited to emergent neo-liberal ideologies of labor, talent, and privilege.