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

Malm, Andreas LU (2013) In Historical Materialism 21(1). p.15-68
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... (More)
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. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Fossil fuels, steam power, water power, cotton industry, labour, space, time, carbon dioxide, capital accumulation
in
Historical Materialism
volume
21
issue
1
pages
15 - 68
publisher
Brill Academic Publishers
external identifiers
  • WOS:000321026400002
  • Scopus:84885599971
ISSN
1569-206X
DOI
10.1163/1569206X-12341279
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
c7bac21a-3869-482f-9f93-e8fbfbc48799 (old id 3979965)
date added to LUP
2013-09-11 16:00:02
date last changed
2017-01-01 03:50:07
@article{c7bac21a-3869-482f-9f93-e8fbfbc48799,
  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.},
  author       = {Malm, Andreas},
  issn         = {1569-206X},
  keyword      = {Fossil fuels,steam power,water power,cotton industry,labour,space,time,carbon dioxide,capital accumulation},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {1},
  pages        = {15--68},
  publisher    = {Brill Academic Publishers},
  series       = {Historical Materialism},
  title        = {The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1569206X-12341279},
  volume       = {21},
  year         = {2013},
}