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

By Neil J. Smelser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
PRESSURES ON THE FAMILY DIVISION OF LABOUR

Introduction . From the industrial perspective the cotton-textile revolution appears as a dramatic rearrangement of all the factors of production. The revolution originated with a series of dissatisfactions legitimized by the dominant value-system of the day. In several sequences of differentiation the industry emerged with a structure more adequate to meet the demands of the foreign and domestic markets. Such a revolution naturally did not occur in a vacuum. It was initiated by non-economic elements such as religious values, political arrangements, and social stratification. At the same time, the industrial revolution in cotton created a source of dissatisfactions, which, when combined with other elements, initiated several sequences of differentiation in other social sub-systems.

In the rest of this study we shall analyse structural differentiation in one of the cotton industry's social neighbours: the family economy of its working classes. Because the industrial structure of labour changed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, pressure began to weigh immediately upon the family division of labour.* The immediate dissatisfactions produced by these industrial changes might be characterized as follows: in order to offer industrial labour on new terms (e.g., to become a factory hand instead of a domestic worker) and at the same time maintain its functions of socialization and tension-management, the family economy required a series of drastic structural modifications. Historically the family rose to this challenge by a process formally identical with that of the industrial change itself -- the process of structural differentiation.

Several sequences led to the emergence of a new form of family. For a convenient starting-point, however, we shall consider the sequence initiated most dramatically by the industrial revolution -- the differentiation of new labour roles in the family economy.** In

____________________
*
The immediate focus of this pressure is the EG-CG boundary. Above, p. 163.
**
Even this starting-point conceals two separate processes of differentiation: (a) the differentiation of the family economy as a whole from textile production as a whole, by which the family unit was segregated from its traditional productive roles; (b) the differentiation of occupational roles within the family.

-180-

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