Nature and the Victorian entrepreneur : soap, sunlight and subjectivity

Bergin, John Philip

Sociology; Human services; Philosophy; Religion
April 1998

Thesis or dissertation

© 1998 John Philip Bergin. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

At the heart of any philosophical exercise lies an understanding, be it explicated or taken for granted, of Nature. This thesis explores how Nature may have come to be understood as it is in our everyday life in the late twentieth century.The life and work of one Victorian Entrepreneur - William Hesketh Lever, First Viscount Leverhulme of the Western Isles - is explored to reveal a cultural dynamic behind entrepreneurial activity. His personal philosophies, his legacy including Port Sunlight village, the Leverhulme Trust and the product for which he is best known, namely Sunlight Soap, are examined to reveal the extent to which his understanding of Nature impacted on his thought. What he expressed in his philosophy as his thought is questioned and it is suggested that in Leverhulme's life and work can be seen the organising dynamic of subjectivity. Leverhulme, it is suggested, was as subject to this process of organisation as were, and are, the consumers of his products. The symbolism of soap is explored through order, not only in the literal sense of personal and public hygiene but, also, by extension, of order in the wider sense, that of organisation.Thus this thesis extends from the analysis of soap as a product and its marketability through the metaphor of Sunlight, which is taken to stand for an idealized, anthropocentric Nature, an understanding of which underpins the sociology of order upon which much organisation is premised. Soap as an intimate tool of personal organisation, through its contact with the body and with clothing is taken, in Freud's terminology, to be a yardstick of civilization. As a permanent feature of the mass-consumer market it shares the physical intimacies of the body, the domestic economy of the household and, in the wider economy, the technological developments in the saponide industry, the regulation of the governance of the 'environment' as well as impacting on 'popular' culture. As such it is particularly susceptible to analysis through some of the work of Foucault, in particular his work on subjectivity, power/knowledge and technology of the self.

Department of Management Systems and Sciences, The University of Hull
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