The Luddites, without Condescension

Event Date: 6 May 2011
Room B34 10:00 – 18:00
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street, Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7HX


The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities presents:

The Luddites, without Condescension
A Conference on the 200th Anniversary
of the Frame-breakers’ Uprising

In the Spring of 2011 Birkbeck will host a one-day conference to mark the 200th anniversary of the uprising of the handloom weavers in the dawn of the industrial revolution under the command of the mythic General Ludd. Even though the movement was sparked by skilled artisans, “luddite” has ever since been a byword for technophobes facing backwards and mindless rejection of progress. The conference will gather historians of luddism and others interested in what in 1800 was called “the machinery question”, to consider not only the historical luddites, urban and rural, but also contemporary movements of direct resistance, north and south, to capitalist modernization – for example, anti-nuclear movements, opposition to agricultural transgenics, resistance to big dams. The concluding session will address the issue of modernity itself, its model of temporality and the assumption that history is future-directed.

Introduction by Iain Boal.

Session 1: Ludd, Rebecca and History from Below

Peter Linebaugh (Toledo and Midnight Notes) – The Luddites and the Atlantic commons


Discussion with audience, primed and moderated by Anna Davin (History Workshop)


Session 2: Modernization and Contemporary Movements of Resistance

Dave King (Corporatewatch) – The Luddites200 Project and the politics of technology today


Audience questions.


Iain Boal (Birkbeck) – To put your bodies upon the gears: Some reflections on machines, sabotage and direct action


Discussion with activists and audience.


Session 3: Rebels Facing Backwards and the Dream of Modernity

T.J. Clark (Retort) – A Left with no Future


Esther Leslie (Birkbeck) – Response


Closing general discussion.

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  • You might be interested in article I wrote, “Memories of the Future,” on a time when there actually was still a future. It engages with a number of recent writings on the subject by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Slavoj Žižek, T.J. Clark, Owen Hatherley, Chris Cutrone, Max Ajl, Asad Haider, Salar Mohandesi, Ben Lear, and Malcolm Harris, which have been published by AK PRess, Zero Books, Jacobin, New Left Review, and others. Just thought you might want to check it out.