The Emergence of the Technical Safety Standard in France, c. 1820

By Jean-Baptiste Fressoz

The concept of a technical safety standard, i.e. the project of making the world safe by requiring technology to have a certain shape, was invented at the crossroads of the French administrative and academic worlds in the 1820s as a response to the appearance of English technologies from the Industrial Revolution. In 1823, the French government required steam engines and gasometers, which had not caused any accidents in France, to comply with a particular shape defined by the Academy of Sciences. Granted, the goal was to limit industrial risk, but also to legalise it and gain acceptance from the reticent urban bourgeoisie. Furthermore, by claiming to create a perfect technology guaranteed by the administration, the technical safety standard aimed to produce responsible subjects.

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