Let Freeness Ring: The Canadian Standard Freeness Tester as Hegemonic Engine

James Hull


In important respects measurement practices underlay both the Second Scientific Revolution and the Second Industrial Revolution. Such practices, using increasingly accurate and precise instruments, both turned laboratories into factories for the production of exact measurement and also made factories the sites of laboratory-type and laboratory-quality measurement. Those who had learnt the protocols of precise, instrumentational measurement in university science and engineering classrooms, used those instruments and their skills to monitor and control industrial production, exchange technical data within and among firms and formulate and implement technical standardization in industry. That these instruments measured not natural phenomena but technological ones made them no different in kind from what are more conventionally regarded as scientific instruments. Some indeed were simply instruments developed for scientific investigation and adapted for industrial use while others were created specifically for particular industrial applications. But more than the purely technical was going on in the use of those instruments. In addition to their function of producing knowledge they were also, in industrial production, instruments of hegemony – hegemony which, as Gramsci reminds us, begins in the factory. Among the lesser known of these devices is the freeness tester, used in production to control the manufacture of pulp and also in industrial research laboratories for the investigation of the pulping process. The Canadian Standard Freeness Tester (CSFT), developed at a Canadian government research facility on the campus of McGill University in the 1920s, quickly became a standard instrument in the pulp mills of North America and gained wide acceptance in other countries; it remains in use to this day. An understanding of its creation and function can provide a useful case study of the general observations discussed above.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4245/sponge.v4i1.11331