Thursday, 5 May 2011

'The Luddites Without Condescension' - a Conference at Birkbeck, tomorrow

Tomorrow sees a major conference about the Luddites take place at Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London. The conference aims to look at the historical Luddites alongside contemporary resistance to capitalist modernisation. Announced some months ago, the speakers have now been finalised and the full programme finally drawn up. We'll publish it here, annotated as appropriate:

The conference begins at 10.00 a.m. with a 30-minute introduction by historian Eric Hobsbawm, who is the President of Birkbeck. In 1952, Hobsbawm wrote 'The Machine Wreckers', an essay about the Luddites in the first ever issue of Past & Present, arguably beginning the modern attempts to rehabilitate the Luddites and Luddism.

This is followed by Session 1, entitled "Ludd, Rebecca and History from Below" which begins with a talk entitled "The Luddites and the Atlantic commons" by historian Peter Linebaugh. Linebaugh was a student of E.P. Thompson, and co-authored a book with him, as is probably best known for his own book "The London Hanged".

After a break, the session recommences at 12.00 p.m. with a discussion moderated by Anna Davin
of History Workshop.

In between lunch and session 2, there's a reading of Lord Byron's maiden speech to the House of Lords "In Defence of the Luddites", given on 27th February 1812 at the height of the disturbances in Nottinghamshire.

Session 2 is entitled "Modernization and Contemporary Movements of Resistance" and takes place from 2.00 p.m. in two sections: Beth Lawrence from Corporate Watch will outline the Luddites200 project which we looked at a few days ago, and Iain Boal of Birkbeck reflects on machines, sabotage and direct action in a piece entitled "To put your bodies upon the gears".

After a further audience discussion and break, the conference recommences at 4.00 p.m. for Session 3, which is entitled "Rebels Facing Backwards and the Dream of Modernity". T.J. Clark delivers a retort entitled "A Left with no Future". Clark is an art historian, and in the 1960s was a member of the English section of the Situationist International and also a member of King Mob in the 1970s. Session 3 ends with a response by Esther Leslie of Birkbeck, followed by closing general discussion, to end for 6 p.m.

A very interesting agenda with some heavyweight speakers. The event is free, but registration is required. Those unable to attend will be pleased to hear that the Backdoor Broadcasting Company are streaming the conference, with mp3s available for download at a later date.

You can read our review of this conference here.


  1. when will the conference be available to stream?

  2. Don't know - ask the Backdoor Broadcasting Company. There was a chap there all day recording using a laptop with headphones and the room was mic'd up, so they definitely recorded it.