Someone called our Speaking Clock -service last evening. I stuttered and begun installing an atomic time clock app on my phone. While it was installing I whistled the Wind of Change, My Heart Will Go On and some improvised tunes. The posse on the other end of the phone kept giggling and a man explained my actions out loud for their group. It took a while but I did eventually announce the time correctly: 19:17:21.

The Instrumentalisation of Horses in Nineteenth-Century Paris (2011) Peter Soppelsa. The article recognizes horses as “urban infrastructure” (of nineteenth-century Europe) and acknowledges the animals importance for transportation of information and as a force for “driving urban economy”. Soppelsa explains that horse-activities saturated nineteenth-century Paris and formed the “primary site for negotiating human-animal relationships and the place of ‘nature’ in the city”. In 1900 the city was a home to 98,000 horses. The shift towards a mechanized urban landscape had started already in 1870 when campaigns on urban hygiene, mechanical power and animal welfare were actively re-evaluating the horses role.

… how were horses constructed as a technology? Horse use was supported by what I call ‘instrumentalisation’ the transformation of horses into tool. To ‘instrumentalise’ means to objectify and evaluate, to assign value and a normal or standard social use. Instrumentalisation constructs subjects and objects, calibrates means to ends, and scripts relationships between humans, technology and nature.

He links the theory of instrumentalisation to the Frankfurt School (leaning to Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt and others).

Driving this dialogue [of instrumentalisation] is the familiar humanist critique of instrumental rationality as a reversal and perversion of means and ends. Contrary to Kantian ethics, which value humans as ends in themselves, industrial, capitalist and bureaucratic modernity makes humans a means to uphold a fundamentally inhuman system, in which workers are enslaved, by their machines, bureaucrats by their offices, and humanity enslaved by tools, institutions and the environments of our own creation.

Soppelsa claims that “The line between nature and society is irrelevant for horses born in captivity and bread for work”. I understand but don’t agree. Jason Hribal identifies that animals are constantly protesting against their treatment and escaping captivity to establish striving communities. But Soppelsas intents are good, he is aiming to “green” the urban history of the city and to show how dependent our understanding of modern cities is on horses. Similar to Hribals article (mentioned earlier), Soppelsa goes into detail explain the thoroughness which horses were utilized: Every segment and feature of their existence was used. They were used as labor-power and their corpses would be used as material resources (gelatine etc.).

The text focuses on horse-drawn omnibuses which made the foul treatment of horses a common site on the streets of ~1900 Paris. The French Society of the Protection of Animals (est. 1845) was active in campaigning for their well-being. Working for their rights was problematic because of long standing Cartesian views which deemed animals as non-sentient machines. Soppelsa argues that the sole reason the treatment of horses was pulled to a focus was because well treated horses would perform better. Machines and harnesses which caused less stress were developed to keep them in good working condition: “Cartesian animal mechanism was not always incompatible with animal welfare”. Their docility was maintained by organizing the animals into teams.

Omnibus horses […] were stabled in pairs, hitched to the same vehicles and driven by the same coachmen each day. The omnibus liked drivers, horses and vehicle in a consistent unity of human, animal and machine: the team. The team was technologically necessary, because ‘A horse, however willing cannot be used to work without being attached to another device’.

The divers were the center of the “team” Soppelsa continues. The animals could also be drugged to perform as desired: “‘A drunken horse is never meager’, Parisian slang called these drunken horses bohémes […]”.

The principal reasons for treating horses properly were upholding one’s own humanity and extracting the greatest possible value and work.

Early modern Parisians were advocating the well-being of urban horses because they didn’t want to be seen as savages. Not because they cared for the animals! Soppelsa offers interesting quotes by contemporary activist (who referred to horses as our “inferior brothers”) who argued that good treatment of animals made their work more ‘profitable’. Visible animal cruelty made people look bad.

This process, combined with early bacteriology, which deemed close animal contacts “unhygienic”, lead to an new understanding that horses didn’t belong to the city. Interestingly horses were linked to the old European (fading) aristocracy, which lead the horse to be seen as a “chic novelty”. In short working with animals as machines was troublesome, their performance was difficult to manage. But working with actual machines, fitted Cartesian-worldviews (meaning a desire to see the world as a design) flawlessly and their performance could be optimized indefinitely. This process can be summarized by saying that the work of working animals was deemed inhumane, because working with actual machines was the endgame of modern humanity.

The horse’s incompatibility from the city shows how porous are the boundaries of the category of ‘urban’ […] horses were gradually constructed as non-urban after 1870. This narrative helps us historicise the relationships between humans, our tools and nature, thus greening urban history and the history of technology.

To preserve the city as a humanised space of artifice, and to soften the instrumentalisation of humans, Parisians estranged ‘nature’ and enlisted machines to replace animals.

Looking at the world as a design is an attempt to see the intent of a planner in a form. #ॐ