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

By Neil J. Smelser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
DIFFERENTIATION OF THE FAMILY STRUCTURE: FACTORY LEGISLATION

Introduction . Heretofore we have treated the factory question solely in its significance for the factory operatives. Their agitation in the 1820's and 1830's was one avenue taken to protect the traditional relationship between adult and child, to perpetuate the structure of wages, to limit the recruitment of labourers into the industry, and to maintain the father's economic authority.

Limiting our discussion of the factory question to a conservative movement which was stymied by factory legislation, however, does not exhaust the matter. The factory legislation, as it developed between 1833 and 1847, had more far-reaching implications: (1) It led the family economy toward a greater differentiation of economic roles and thus supplemented the concurrent technological changes which precipitated the agitation in the first place. By this process the economic role of the head of the family became more specialized in so far as this role no longer implied co-operation with, training of, and authority over dependent family members. (2) It hastened the establishment of new lines of differentiation between the family economy and such spheres as education and religion. In this chapter we shall analyse these processes, which guided the family economy of the factory operatives to a level of structural differentiation more in harmony with the new industrial world.

In general, factory legislation has been hailed as a working-class victory over the capitalists, who, either through natural interest or malice, had been grinding the workers into deeper and deeper misery. Such an approach 1 contains, however, several paradoxes which we shall examine more thoroughly later. First, the miseries of the workers were not those claimed by the factory agitators, such as bad health and overwork. The social environment for responding to illness and the social context of work changed, but working conditions in a physical sense were probably improving in the 1820's and

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We shall consider this and several other approaches to working-class matters in Chapter XIV.

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