Loughborough University
McIntyre, James Evan (2021) Contrivances for Superseding All Human Labour [PhD. Thesis].pdf (5.55 MB)

“Contrivances for superseding all human labour”: the work-abolitionist experiments of John Adolphus Etzler and their significance for contemporary post-work politics

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posted on 2022-01-04, 14:29 authored by James Mcintyre
This thesis delivers a novel microhistorical study of the career and ideas of the nineteenth-century socialist and inventor John Adolphus Etzler. It traces the early development of Etzler’s vision for the global abolition of work-based civilization through the substitution of human workers by purpose-built mechanical automata, and corresponding plans for the reorganisation of human community life around a network of utopian megastructures in which all necessaries of survival and comfort, prepared and delivered automatically by the machines, could be freely enjoyed by a liberated humanity without any individual experience of material scarcity, economic duress or involuntary exertion.
Using copious newly-discovered primary evidence, it significantly augments existing accounts of Etzler’s life and thought, uncovering hitherto entirely unknown phases of his early career, mechanical experimentation and formative political influences, and corrects several errors of fact and interpretation in prior Etzler scholarship, especially concerning the catastrophic failure of an 1845–1847 expedition by hundreds of British chartists to establish, on Etzler’s blueprint, the first fully workless, mechanised human city in a remote tract of uninhabited Venezuelan jungle under the auspices of the Tropical Emigration Society.
It finds that the collapse of the TES scheme in South America owed more to internecine power struggles and the hazards associated with nineteenth-century transatlantic emigration generally than to flaws intrinsic to the fundamental Etzlerist programme of socialistic mechanical substitution of human workers. Building on this rehabilitation of Etzlerism as a coherent and plausible response to the depredations of capitalism, the thesis then evaluates the relevance of Etzler’s career for the resurgent twenty-first-century scholarship of ‘post-work’ politics, a literature amongst which, despite substantial similarities of ideas and intent, the history of Etzlerism remains wholly neglected.



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  • International Relations, Politics and History


Loughborough University

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© James McIntyre

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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Ruth Kinna ; Matt Adams

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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