Pre-Industrial Revivals

-A Post-Industrial Revelation-

Innovation, the introduction of a new way of doing things, can only occur when the old way is thoroughly understood. That said the positivist process that we as a western society have undertaken since the break of the Industrial/Agricultural Revolution has transformed us into a discombobulated middle-class of godless individualists. Indeed the speed with which our hyper-specialists push ever further the specific boundaries of our collective field of knowledge leaves us as individuals stranded in a post-industrial culture of disorientation (this state of disorientation becomes decidedly more profound in a secular society where faith cannot help with the reorientation process).

This paper attempts to address this problem of disorientation by giving the reader two now graspable points where from it becomes possible to triangulate one’s position, to remain always orientated in the ever-changing present. The two external points are an always contemporary local and global, the third point is the specialized individual (i.e. oneself). A deep understanding of these two external points, of both the local and the global, leads to a heightened state of consciousness, of moving through the world with the world as the world, and is the essence of this essay: a prescription of Dynamic Stasis.

The local point is a homeplace that provides the inhabitant a certain and maximum degree of self-sustainability. It is the fundamental chore of the inhabitant to maximize the productivity of the homeplace. What then should this inhabitant produce in this homeplace? If it is the greatest requirement of the homeplace to provide a maximum degree of self-sustainability to the inhabitant then we must look at sustenance for a moment. Sustenance is the process of sustaining life. The literal description of the homeplace becomes inherently rural in type and agricultural by nature (in this post-industrial epoch it is impossible to speak of a truly rural place so it is understood that this prescribed homeplace is quasi-rural). By examining a pre-industrial ruralism and repositioning it in our contemporary society a new perspective is generated in the relationship between the globalspace and the homeplace; one that becomes an integrated domesticity.

Patterns of the Fundaments

In order to use the pre-industrial ruralism as a fundament for this new prescription of a post-industrial lifestyle a specific historical population must be identified and defined. In assessing a pre-industrial lifestyle it is logical to look at the industrial history of Britain, where the Industrial Revolution starts and quickly begins to out-perform the rural cottagers and their industries of differentiated manufacturing, thereby making them redundant:

…in both the cotton and the woollen industries production was increasingly concentrated in factories powered by water or by steam, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, though some domestic spinsters still survived. From an early stage, however, most manufacturers preferred to rely wholly on their factory output.[1]

Clearly then the cut-off of our epoch, the end of pre-industrial society, is the end of the eighteenth century. The Industrial Revolution and Agricultural Revolution are interrelated as “most Englishmen in 1815 still worked on the land or in trades connected with agriculture,” however “within the next generation most Englishmen became townsmen engaged in industry.”[2] The comparative advantage of the factory over the cottage industry is quite self-evident. The home trade can in no way compete with the factory’s micro-specialization of labour and hyper-concentration of production. Indeed Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations condemns the “habit of sauntering and of indolent careless application [that] is naturally…acquired by every country workman who is obliged to change his work and his tools every half hour, and to apply his hand in twenty different ways almost every day of his life.’ Specialization – division of labour – is the only way in which efficient production can be promoted.”[3] But then the title of his manifesto is The Wealth of Nations. There is no compassion for the well-being of the individual in his quest for pure efficiency and this is exactly what this prescription remedies. Indeed it was already apparent then that “the freedom which home employment afforded was preferable to the regimentation of the factory”[4]

Jane Jacobs points out in The Economy of Cities that when “Adam Smith looked at England, the most advanced economy of the eighteenth century, he found clues to future patterns of economic development. Mass production was not then the dominant form of manufacturing, but nevertheless Smith saw it as a coming thing.”[5] She then goes further in attempting “to look for clues to patterns that may be found in more highly developed economies of the future” by examining “the most advanced” contemporary economy she can find.[6] Jacobs writes this in the America of 1969, the year of the lunar landing, so her lofty futurism is understandable however the patterns of the documented past are easier to read, their clues not as cryptic. So we look back to a pre-industrial ruralism where already in the Middle Ages a pattern is evolving:

Between each cottage and the village lane grew a few onions or cabbages, peas or beans, leeks or garlic; and, beside the path, there were perhaps a few rows of parsley and other herbs. Behind, in a small enclosed plot, grew more vegetables, a fruit tree or two, cherries, apples and pears. Some cottages had a pig snuffling about beside a mud-splashed sty and fed on nothing but waste; several had hens, capable of providing…as many as 180 eggs a year each….A man with a holding of more than eight or ten acres would probably have a cow, as well as other animals…In most cottages, though, a bowl of milk was not as often seen on the peasant’s table as an earthenware jug of ale; nor was a piece of beef as frequently to be found in the metal pot that hung over his fire as a mess of vegetables and oatmeal pottage which, with a hunk of dark coloured bread, had generally to serve for his evening meal. Sometimes there would be cheese and curds or on special occasions a chicken or a rabbit snared on a poaching exhibition.[7]

All throughout the pre-industrial era the homeplace was built with “the materials which their particular locality afforded,”[8] However, “very few of the cottages were built of stone, even in those areas where good stone was readily found. Most were built on wooden frames, the walls being made of rows of sticks between which long twigs were intertwined, creating a lattice-work; and on these frames, layers of mud, or mud mixed with straw, were plastered and left to dry.[9]

So after reading some of the patterns of the past and picking up a few clues for the future it becomes interesting to further define this quasi-ruralism.

Wright On

By introducing a fellow idealist and architect the pedigree of this prescriptive argument gains substantially in merit. That said one cannot even attempt to define this strange rural future without looking at the writings of Frank Lloyd Wright, in particular his utopian vision of Broadacre City that he largely outlined in his 1931 writing, The Disappearing City and continued to pursue until his death in 1959. In his writings Wright speaks of the “citizen of the near future preferring horizontality – the gift of his motorcar, and telephonic or telegraphic inventions – will turn and reject verticality as the body of any American city.” The imagery of this description is fantastic. Wright somehow predicts the effects of the internet, of this real-time global connectivity, on the relevance of the city. He speaks further of the “complete mobilization of the people” to which we can now add complete connectivity as well to give us our globalspace. If we go further, as David de Long does in his essay Designs for an American Landscape 1922 – 1932, and proclaim that “in Wright’s idealized landscape, fixity and mobility were thus to be acknowledged in a single composition” [10] then it becomes possible to define a feasible networked-ruralism where “the great highways [real and virtual] are in process of becoming the decentralized metropolis.” It gets better. Frank Lloyd Wright practiced what he preached. While Jane Jacobs, writes excitedly on the benefits of growing a “differentiation of crops within geographical localities, pointing out that mass production in farming itself – great factory farms devoted to one kind of cash crop – leads inherently to drastic imbalances of natural life and tends to increase the potential ravages of plant diseases and pests.”[11] Frank Lloyd Wright exemplifies this concept. One needs only to look at the cover illustration of this paper, a differentiated farm plan for Taliesin, to see that there is absolutely nothing new about this revelation. Taliesin, his homeplace (see fixity above) was a working model of this rural typology:

Wright intended that Taliesin be “self-sustaining if not self-sufficient…its own light-plant, fuel yard, transportation and water system,” providing “shelter, food, clothes, and even entertainment. . . .The ideal of sustainability was never fully realized there; despite Wright’s aversion to cities, Taliesin was always supported by urban activities and populations (for example fees for lectures and architectural commissions). After the Taliesin Playhouse opened in 1933, the admission charge for films shown on Sunday afternoons provided additional income.[12]

Frank Lloyd Wright needed an additional source of income in order to keep Taliesin, his homeplace, running. In this contemporary prescription it is the combination of an aforementioned professional specialization (in his case architecture) and the interactivity of the globalspace that provides exactly that.

Contemporary Connectivity

The internet provides a global connectivity that allows for so much. Most importantly to this prescription it has changed the configuration of the workplace and made mainstream the ability to purchase ownership in any public company.

The internet’s effect on the workplace is well documented. Writing in 1991, in the introduction of Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization, Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler are already proclaiming that the internet “can overcome temporal and geographical barriers to exchange information” and that these technologies “can create entirely new options in organizational behaviour and structure.”[13] There is no need to go too far in the precise ramifications of this connectivity, but with a contemporary networked ruralism in mind, it becomes easy to envision a rural homeplace that can also function as a connected workspace allowing for many urban activities to occur here. We remember Wright’s imagery of the city dweller turning and rejecting the verticality of the classic city.

The internet has also made it possible for us to transform our assets into personalized cocktails of stocks, bonds and funds. Everyone is a possible trader, and this is the Capital Market Revolution that Young and Theys write about: “The fact is that the Internet gives all traders essentially equal access to prices and trades throughout the financial markets at any time of the day and night, regardless of borders, time zones and geography.”[14] By following the global markets a consciousness of the globalspace is gained and honed. A rural stockbroker “can be transformed overnight into a global online stock-broking house, with the capacity to rival the largest players in the world.”[15]

There are of course a number of different ways in which one can put the connectivity of the internet to work: as a communication tool to socialize, advertise, gain information, work through, to trade and barter in a real-time market place, or merely as a source of endless entertainment.

Work: Differentiated Production

Jane Jacobs foresees a future where differentiated production may generate other changes in economic life and where “the average size of manufacturing enterprises will be smaller than at present.”[16] I have found the same working method, of a differentiated production, in the past, both in the pre-industrial cottage industries:

As was characteristic of pre-industrial society, some men followed more than one occupation – like Robert Day of Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, who is shown in trade directories of the early 1790s as a carpenter, grocer, tailor, “Staffordshire dealer’ and house agent…By such efforts they could perhaps earn enough to keep themselves and their families when the income from one trade would have proved insufficient…. Housewives, too, had regular outside employment as dressmakers, laundresses, nurses, midwives and labourers. In areas where cottage industries flourished many women were engaged in these. At Cardington in 1782 over half of the married women had an additional occupation, most of them being lacemakers or spinners of linen and jersey. Even the children played their part, helping around the home, collecting firewood, gathering rushes to be dipped into tallow to provide lighting in place of expensive candles, scaring the birds, picking stones, weeding the crops, harvesting and gleaning.[17]

and at Taliesin as Kevin Lynch describes his experience there in 1937:

The new apprentice must learn how to handle a tall bundle of cornstalks, or how to cut a green oak plank, or how to translate a drawing for a building, or how to lay plaster, or even the most efficient method of scraping oatmeal from a pot….It is the attempt to grasp the new ideal of hard work, of creative activity, of ‘learning by doing,’ of enthusiastic cooperation in solving common problems, that makes the life of the new apprentice so full and so fascinating here.[18]

In examining the differentiation of jobs done in both the pre-industrial cottage industries and in a working day at Taliesin a clear understanding is gained into the work required in maintaining a networked ruralism.

Productive and Challenged

In looking back at a documented pre-industrial past and an individual vision of a majestic future a prescription is written for the remedy of our post-industrial hangover. This prescription is both polemic and innovative, revivalist and futurist, complex and contradictory together. It calls for the sublime knowledge of the pre-industrial homeplace to be retro-fitted with the latest in contemporary communications and energy technologies. In merging knowledge from the past with technology of the present the homeplace becomes the workplace, where a specialization can be practiced or where bread and butter, cheese and beer can be made and enjoyed amongst family and friends. This merge leads to an integrated domesticity, a place where clothes can be made to fit and worn out over time, or where shares in Chinese denim can be bought and sold. An integrated domesticity is the optimal environment wherein you can gain an understanding of both the local homeplace and the globalspace.[19] If you get bored with being inside then there is certainly something to be done out in the fields, and if you’ve done all your chores around the house perhaps a little fishing or cockle gathering to keep you productive and challenged. We have to realize that Adam Smith was writing about the wealth of nations, not about the pursuit of happiness. Specialization of labour is an option not an absolute, and efficiency is really only as good as you feel. So if you get bored around the homeplace then feel free to take a drive to one of Frank’s automobile objectives, to a leisure paradise where “golf courses, racetrack, zoo, aquarium and planetarium will naturally be found…grouped in an architectural ensemble with a botanical garden.”[20] When commuting is no longer a horrible necessity the automobile becomes a toy again, the roads and the world out there becomes your playground where you can dance and jive like a bird on the wind experiencing the pure thrill of the Dynamic Stasis.


[1] Pamela Horn. The Rural World 1780-1850: Social Change in the English Countryside.  58.

[2] David Thomson. England in the Nineteenth Century. 11.

[3] Pamela Horn. The Rural World 1780-1850: Social Change in the English Countryside.  21.

[4] ibid.  59.

[5] Jane Jacobs. The Economy of Cities.  222.

[6] ibid.  221-222.

[7] Christopher Hibbert. The English: A Social History 1066 – 1945.  19.

[8] Charles Chevenix-Trench. The Squire and the Poacher. 135.

[9] Christopher Hibbert. The English: A Social History 1066 – 1945.  19.

[10] David G. De Long. Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape.  46.

[11] Jane Jacobs. The Economy of Cities. 226.

[12] Anne Winston Spirn. Architect of Landscape.  149.

[13] Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler. Connections. ix.

[14] Young & Theys. Capital Market Revolution.  134.

[15] Young & Theys. Capital Market Revolution.  93.

[16] Jane Jacobs. The Economy of Cities. 229.

[17] Pamela Horn. The Rural World 1780-1850: Social Change in the English Countryside.  21-22.

[18] Anne Whiston Spirn. Architect of Landscape.  149.

[19] Maurice Ashley. England in the Seventeenth Century. 26.

[20] David G. De Long. Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape.  100.



Ashley, Maurice. England in the Seventeenth Century. London: Penguin Books, 1952

Chevenix-Trench, Charles P. The Squire and the Poacher. London: Longman, 1967

De Long, David G. Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape 1922-1923. Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, Harry N. Abrams, 1996

den Hartog, Harry et al. Exurbia: Wonen Buiten de Stad. Rotterdam: Episode, 2006

Hedges, J.K. The History of Wallingford. 2 vols. London: Wm. Clowes & Sons, 1881

Hibbert, Christopher. The English: A Social History 1066 – 1945. London: Paladin, 1988

Horn, Pamela. The Rural World 1780-1850: Social Change in the English Countryside. London: Hutchinson, 1980

Jacobs, Jane. The Economy of Cities. Middlesex, England: Pelican Books, 1969

Sproull, Lee and Kiesler, Sara. Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991

Thomson, David. England in the Nineteenth Century <1815 – 1914>. London: Pelican Books, 1950

Wright, Frank Lloyd. The Disappearing City. New York: W. F. Payson, 1932

Young, P. And Theys, T. Capital Market Revolution: The Future of Markets in an Online World. London: Pearson Education Limited, 1999

Post navigation