Fatigue, Physiology and Modernity: The New Physiology of Fatigue and the Mapping of Bodily Interiority

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Mark PATERSON, University of Pittsburgh, USA
This paper tells the story of how, as a result of the intensification of labour in munitions factories in Britain and France 1914-18, the phenomenon of fatigue came to be observed and measured by physiologists, forming a new disciplinary subfield. Formerly considered as indistinct bodily sensation alongside pain and touch, the ‘new’ physiology of fatigue offered up practical means to further map somatic interiority. The implications of the proliferation of observation techniques and measuring apparatus were far-reaching, offsetting the emphasis on efficiency of Gilbreth (from 1907) and the ‘scientific management’ of Taylor (1911), and leading ultimately to more mobile forms of measurement and quantification (e.g. the ‘quantified self’, Lupton 2016) now familiar to us.

In the summer of 1915 Sir Charles Sherrington, a world­-renowned scientific authority based at the University of Oxford, cycled to Birmingham to spend three months in the Vickers­-Maxim munitions factory. This physiologist worked regular shifts at the factory and wrote a quasi-ethnographic account of it in order to conduct research on industrial fatigue at a time of war. Sherrington was lead author of the first ever report of the Industrial Fatigue Research Board (IFRB) in 1920. Subsequent reports directly influenced the 1937 Factories Act, which ruled on acceptable working hours, ambient conditions, and rest breaks. Forms of physiological attention to labor processes fostered new instruments and techniques for measuring muscular strain and movement. In France, meanwhile, Jules Amar’s Le Moteur humain (1914) had also compiled extensive observations and data on the forces, movements, and thermodynamic processes involved in human labor, including the physiological effects of fatigue on workers. Finally, I discuss how Amar’s adoption of Helmholtz’s Arbeitskraft [‘Labor Power’], which conceives of forces that operate across humans, animals, and machines, opens a pathway for thinking about the hybrid spaces of factory-based human-robot interaction.