By John Smail
In this book John Smail focuses on the economic and social life in one of the most important northern textile centers as he explores themes fundamental to the history of eighteenth-century England. By developing a cultural theory of class formation, he offers a solution to a question that has provoked spirited discussion in recent years: what were the origins of middle-class English culture? Smail argues that a group's class identity depends on a culture that its members share, one that encompasses economic, social, and political factors in a common worldview. He traces the emergence of an increasingly prosperous manufacturing and middle-class elite in Halifax when large-scale and capitalistic textile operations began to undercut the small-scale, independent clothiers and yeomen. The new manufacturers and the elite professionals associated with them, he shows, became involved in distinctive economic forms and relationships of capitalistic production. They developed their own attitudes toward credit, investment, and money, with a distinctive consumer orientation toward a whole range of luxury items and fashionable goods. By examining the range of voluntary associations and official institutions in the public sphere and the new expectations of the family and forms of sociability in the private sphere, he shows how this new elite built its middle-class consciousness in opposition to other social groups. While Smail concentrates on a particular community, he continually explores the impact of the wider world on these families and the implications of their experiences.