The Erasure of the Worker’s Body: Health in the Workplace during the Early Industrialization of Paris (1770-1840)

By Thomas Le Roux

From the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, large numbers of artisanal and industrial sectors began to be transformed by the adoption of innovative processes, new forms of work organization and new rhythms, which had important consequences for the health of workers and artisans. In the 1770s, the problem of diseases of artisans was suddenly a subject of debate in the medical areas of Paris, in the academies, and in public opinion. Starting from 1789, there was a dramatic reversal: the lack of medical literature, the proliferation of industrial accidents, and the tightening of control for workers resulted in an erasure of the body of the worker, who began to be a cog in the first industrialization promoted by the government. Then there was a second erasure of the body of the worker from the 1820s onward. It was theorized by the hygienists of the Conseil de salubrité (Health Council), health experts in the Prefecture of Police. Wishing to support industrialization, the Conseil de salubrité therefore denied the suffering of workers.

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