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REVIEWS Mary Poovey. Making a Social Body: British Cultural Transformation 1830-1864. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1996, ? + 255, $12.95 US (paper). In this book Mary Poovey sets out to examine some of die intellectual shifts which contributed to die rise of mass culture by die late nineteendi century. Focussing for die most part on die 1830s through to 1860, Poovey explores some of die features which homogenized British culture and led to die creation of a national identity. In die book's eight chapters — five of which have appeared previously — Poovey charts die way in which die upper classes came to see die population of the country as a single entity — as a social body, to use her central metaphor. Each chapter after die first, in which Poovey makes clear her theoretical position, focusses on an aspect of this development. In "The Production of Abstract Space" Poovey discusses die nature of modern abstraction, which she says was borrowed from science and which "tended to render every subject of the state functionally equivalent" (29). If all subjects were alike in fundamental ways, dien diey and dieir behavior could be measured and compared, and die population could dius be conceived as a unitary body and a national identity established. This development was one of a number of profound changes taking place in Early Modern Europe (trade widi die New World, the Reformation, and so on) which Poovey says "mandated a reformulation of die relationship between die modern state and die individuals who were its subjects" (31). By die eighteenth century such a reformulation was achieved by British political theorists in their notions of liberal governance — "that semi-autonomous realms like the economy or die population would govern themselves as long as society was organized to conform to specific natural laws" (32). This notion of governance was predicated on die assumption diat people were fundamentally alike in important ways. As Adam Smith had it, diat they would be virtuous because they desired die approval of others and 126Victorian Review could sympathize widi diem, and diat they possessed a universal predisposition to truck, barter and trade. Nevertheless, in order to ensure diat die poor (who saw few of die material benefits promised in diis new set ofrelations and dius had litde incentive to discipline themselves to work hard) did in fact contribute to die wealth of society, it was necessary that they be subject to surveillance and regulation. Poovey points out that in this way of seeing it is possible to envision die population, including the poor, as one entity — as a social body — while at the same time identifying one part of it as in need of remedial and curative treatment Poovey does not claim that the transformations which elaborated this shift were smooth and even, however. Radier, she says the emergence of new domains (the redrawing of epistemological boundaries and rules which eventually become formalized as disciplines) dirough which the transformations occurred, was very uneven widi features of older domains adapted and retained in diose emergent. Thus, the process was shot dirough widi contradictions and irrationalities. In die rest of die book Poovey explores aspects of die emergent domains as well as dieir contradictions and irrationalities. In Chapter Three, Poovey examines James Phillips Kay's use of die metaphor of 'die social body' in order to explore die contributions which die social reform movement made to a national identity. Poovey shows how upper-class notions of social reform were substituted for political reform — especially political reform espoused independentiy by die working class. Poovey dien goes on to connect Kay's use of die social body to modern abstraction by showing how social analysts used anatomical techniques to specialize and specify die social body (20). In the course of diis chapter, Poovey also demonstrates how the investigation of prostitution became a site of conflict between diose espousing die rationality of die scientific and economic domains and diose who espoused the theological. Aside from Kay, Poovey also privileges the work of Thomas Chalmers and Edwin Chadwick in order to explore disciplinary individualism. She shows diat diese men were in effect two sides of die same coin: diat while Chalmers used charisma to instill "a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 125-127
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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