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Vital MinimumNeed, Science, and Politics in Modern France$
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Dana Simmons

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226251561

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226251738.001.0001

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(p.1) Chapter 1 Introduction
Vital Minimum

Dana Simmons

University of Chicago Press

What is a need, a want, a luxury? This chapter establishes ‘need’ as a social, biological, scientific and political category in need of a history. Chemist Antoine Lavoisier articulated a fundamental dilemma of the modern social order: workers, by virtue of their bodily expenditure, need to consume more fuel than the leisured classes. Yet the rich enjoy an abundance that they do not physically need. Lavoisier, writing in the thick of the French Revolution, articulated a disjunction between wealth, wages and needs, the social order and natural order. His dilemma sets out the central problematic of this book. The chapter further introduces the notion of quantum life, whose opposite is not death but non-productivity. ‘Vital minimum’, ‘minimum existence’ and the ‘living wage’ expressed a social necessity - the need to reproduce labor - in the language of life.

Keywords:   need, standards of living, living wage, nutrition, human sciences, quantum life, vital minimum, consumption

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