|The modern age has quintessentially been the age of machines, and the large-scale mechanized transformation of the world has been one of the key motivating desires – and fears – of modernity. The bulldozer, embodying the paradoxes of progress and destruction, dramatizes the Faustian pact underlying that desire. The hopes, dreams and anxieties of modernity have followed in the bulldozer’s tracks from its origins in the early twentieth century to the present day. The squat shape of the bulldozer haunts the characteristic landscapes of modernity, urban and rural zones of marginality and liminality, the hinterlands and disputed territories between war and peace, construction and destruction, peaceful progress and the violence of brute force.
This paper explores the history of the bulldozer within its socio-cultural and environmental contexts, concerned with the layers of meaning that have accumulated around this hugely important but often disregarded machine. In 1962 Lewis Mumford wrote of the bulldozer and the atomic bomb as the two foremost symbols of modern technological civilization and its impact upon the planet. Yet while the atom bomb has haunted our imaginations for sixty years the bulldozer, acting behind the scenes of modern life, is less visible and has been accorded less attention. Here I argue that it is deserving of the prominence Mumford gave it. The modern world has followed in the tracks of the bulldozers; their blades have shaped the face it bears. Watch what the bulldozers are doing – they show where, as a society, we are going.