The Vomiting Mill: Scenes of Sociological Repulsion from Wordsworth to Durkheim

This essay considers the role of disgust in the emergence of sociological theory over the course of the nineteenth century. It argues that what began as the bourgeois social analyst’s disgust towards the modern city gradually transformed, over the course of the century, into the modern sociological theorization of alienation as a form of low-level repulsion. To track these changes in the function of disgust within social analysis, the essay begins with a reading of William Wordsworth’s description in The Prelude of London as a "vast mill, / …vomiting, receiving on all sides, / Men, women, three-years’ children, babes in arms,” before turning to Friedrich Engels’s claim that “the very turmoil of [London’s] streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels.”