Social Change in the Industrial Revolution: An Application of Theory to the British Cotton Industry

By Neil J. Smelser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
REFILLING THE BOXES

Introduction . At this point our study reaches a half-way mark. We first outlined several abstract dimensions by which the structure of any social system may be analysed, and next generated a series of abstract propositions concerning the sequence by which institutionalized activity becomes more differentiated along these dimensions (Chapters I, II). To fill these empty boxes, we described an industry -- cotton textiles -- in terms of the general dimensions, and re-phrased the abstract propositions of structural change as more specific propositions governing industrial change (Chapter III). Finally, we attempted to assess the workability of these propositions by unravelling the tangled history of structural change in the cotton industry between 1770 and 1840 (Chapters IV-VII). Now we must re-phrase these propositions once more, and apply them to the changes in the economic life of the working-class family in the same period. To carry out these operations on the family economy is to apply the same set of theoretical concepts to a different institutional complex without varying the logic of the theory.

First we shall apply the same formal functional categories to the family economy that we applied to the industry; furthermore, we shall apply the same formal principles of change to the family economy as to the industry. This is not to say that the family is or is reducible to an industry. Because its value-system, goals, and institutionalized roles differ radically from those of any industry, we must observe unique characteristics for the family. Nor is it to say that industrial change automatically induces change in the family economy, even though it may initiate such changes by generating dissatisfactions with the existing role-performance in the family economy. Any differentiation of familial roles, however, must be analysed in terms specific to the family.

With such an analysis of the family economy, we should be able to throw light on such historical developments as the agitation to limit factory hours, the emergence of trade unions, the evolution of friendly societies, the appearance of savings banks, and the early co-operative movement. All these illustrate the process of structural

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