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My dissertation, Factories of Modernity: Labor, Aesthetics, and the Racial Politics of Historical Capitalism, offers a critical theory of capitalist modernity by reconsidering the relationship between political ideas and the factory system as both a historical and contemporary problem.

According to standard accounts, the factory’s place in the development of modernity is often restricted to the industrial period of capitalist society, which—as the story goes—takes off in late eighteenth-century England, spreads across Europe and North America in the nineteenth century, peaks at the turn of the twentieth century, and begins to disintegrate around the 1970s, giving way to a “postindustrial global north” and an “industrializing global south.” By contrast, my dissertation tells a different story; it accounts for the historical and conceptual significance of the factory system before and after industrial capitalism.

Today, in the thick of high-tech capitalism, I uncover factories hidden within Amazon warehouses across the American Midwest, data centers in Silicon Valley, and click-farms in Southeast Asia (Chapter 1). In the distant past, long before the steam engine, I draw attention to a factory system fomenting in the background of rural poorhouses (Chapter 2), urban workshops (Chapter 3), African slave dungeons (Chapter 4), Atlantic plantations (Chapter 5), and debtor’s prisons (Chapter 6) from the late seventeenth to the turn of the nineteenth century. In each one of these spaces, the experiences of peasants, artisans, slaves, black refugees, and bankrupt convicts were ordained by capital’s reconfiguration of production prior to the rise of industrial capitalism and, in the case of tech workers, after the arrival of “postindustrial society.”

Through the course of my dissertation, the social reality of these spaces and its workers emerges as a decisive force in shaping the modern world. At each turn, the factory figures as a historically specific, conceptually rich, and politically significant microcosm of modernity. Inside these heterotopias of production and reproduction, ideas concerning labor, aesthetics, and race were—and continue to be—drafted, deployed, and redefined. Moving between institutions and ideas, archival materials and canonical concepts, my dissertation reimagines the factory as a form of capitalist production whose social reorganization of politics, culture, and the economy predates and outlasts the age of industrial manufacturing. By rethinking the rise of the factory system in the British Empire and the global Atlantic (1692-1807) alongside the discursive practices and ideas that propelled its development, the project unveils not only the pre-industrial dawn of the factory, but also its concealed persistence where we might least expect to find it today, unraveling in turn the impasses it continues to impose on economic, political, and social life.

My dissertation is supervised by Patchen Markell, Jennifer Pitts, Sankar Muthu, and Paul Cheney (History).

For the “Contents Page” of my dissertation (with chapter titles) click here

If you would like to read a longer proposal, please email me: lucaspinheiro [at] uchicago [dot] edu


Joseph Wright of Derby, Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night (Oil on Canvas, 1782)