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30 May 2017

Professor Emma Griffin explores how British workers became tied to the clock.

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Before industrialisation, workers were accustomed to a loosely regulated working week, influenced more by daylight hours and the agricultural cycle than by the time on the face of a clock. Indeed, most people didn’t own a watch and managed all aspects of their lives without reference to official time.

During the Industrial Revolution, British workers became tied to the clock in a way they never had before. Humans have always tried to measure time, but the importance of this task stepped up a gear during the 19th century. Now it was about controlling a workforce. And in today’s economic climate of zero hours contracts and increasingly casualised employment, Emma argues this fundamental relationship between time and control is as important as ever.

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