Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Health Services Research (HSOP)




Claudia Klaver


Bodies, British literature, Labor, Marxist, Technology, Victorian

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


While recent scholarship focuses on the fluidity or dissolution of the boundary between body and machine, "The Body Machinic" historicizes the emergence of the categories of "human" and "mechanical" labor. Beginning with nineteenth-century debates about the mechanized labor process, these categories became defined in opposition to each other, providing the ideological foundation for a dichotomy that continues to structure thinking about our relation to technology. These perspectives are polarized into technophobic fears of dehumanization and machines "taking over," or technological determinist celebrations of new technologies as improvements to human life, offering the tempting promise of maximizing human efficiency. "The Body Machinic" argues that both sides to this dichotomy function to mask the ways the apparent body-machine relation is always the product of human social relations that become embedded in the technologies of the labor process.

Chapter 1 identifies the emergence of this dichotomy in the 1830s "Factory Question" debates: while critics of the factory system described workers as tools appended to monstrous, living machines, apologists claimed large-scale industrial machinery relieved human toil by replicating the laboring body in structure and function. Chapters 2 examines factory workers' autobiographies which record their experiences of being treated like machine parts, disposed of when broken by gruesome factory accidents. Chapter 3 analyzes Trollope's Michael Armstrong and Tonna's Helen Fleetwood, in which merely occupying the space of the factory initiates workers' transformations into a dangerously politicized yet mindless "community of automata." Chapter 4 analyzes Babbage's mathematical theory, his Difference Engine, and Dickens's representation of Babbage in Little Dorrit to argue that representations of mechanization were crucial to debates about the category of mental labor, which we continue to define as productive of intellectual property through its categorical opposition to mechanized manual labor. The conclusion looks at Butler's Erewhon and argues that the particular forms of technophobia and technophilia that dominate today--in which humans become increasingly mechanical, or machines become increasingly life-like--are a direct inheritance of Victorian constructions of human and mechanical as categorically opposed, and of the resulting metaphor of the mechanized laboring body.


Open Access