Abstract

Abstract:

This article reads Noël-Antoine Pluche's bestseller Le Spectacle de la nature, ou, Entretiens sur les particularités de l'histoire naturelle as a contribution to eighteenth-century theories of government. It contends that the work's didactic as well as entertaining volumes on animals, building on and reinforcing the vogue for natural history among the eighteenth-century reading public, helped formulate and disseminate new ideas about how to increase France's prosperity. Interpreting Pluche's descriptions of animals in the light of Foucault's claims about the emergence of 'biopolitics', this article argues that his natural histories of animals provided the upper-class readers of the Spectacle de la nature with tools for rendering the bodies of those lower down the social hierarchy as productive as possible without external coercion and, hence, for contributing to the country's political economy by exercising their management functions. Through interpretation of several examples from Pluche's bestiary of hard-working animals, it shows how descriptions of animals were used as an instrument for reconstructing and disseminating the concept of 'work'. In this way, the article provides an account of the intertwining of natural history, political economy, and the shaping of the individual in the first half of the eighteenth century.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 364-379
Launched on MUSE
2018-08-15
Open Access
No
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