District Space: A Nineteenth-Century Technique of Rule

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Henry, Aaron




This dissertation traces the rise of the district as a system of administration across two historical periods: the deployment of districts by the Hudson’s Bay Company (1815-1840), and the spread of districts throughout England following the implementation of the New Poor Laws (1790-1860). By studying these episodes the project interrogates how what was initially a technique to rationalize the costs of administration became a system of documentation that supported the centralization of knowledge and the rule of population. I develop three theses on the effects of ruling through districts. First, I argue that administering through districts reworked 18th-century practices of Linnaean observation into 19th-century practices of inspection. Second, I argue that districts were used in both the HBC and in England to police the mobility of undesirable populations. Districts were used to document and control the mobility of unproductive labour and, thereby, solidified capitalist social relations. Last, I argue that as a system of spatial partition and documentation, the district formed the connective tissue that joined bureaucratic rule, the census of population, and biopower. I argue that ruling through districts supported the census of population through the creation of an administrative order where the surveillance of human beings was imagined to be continuous and equalized across time and space. The documentation of people, land, and things at the scale of the district made population visible as an object conditioned by the climate, means of subsistence, and topography of each district. As such, ruling through districts stabilized population as a biopolitical object of rule.




Carleton University

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