Fighting Words: Working-Class Formation, Collective Action, and Discourse in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Fighting Words: Working-Class Formation, Collective Action, and Discourse in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Fighting Words: Working-Class Formation, Collective Action, and Discourse in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Fighting Words: Working-Class Formation, Collective Action, and Discourse in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Synopsis

A key component of social life, discourse mediates the processes of class formation and social conflict. Drawing on dialogic theory and building on the work of E. P. Thompson, Marc W. Steinberg argues for the importance of incorporating discursive analysis into the historical reconstruction of class experience. Amending models of collective action, he offers new insights on how discourse shapes the dynamics of popular protest. To support his thesis, he presents studies of two English trade groups in the 1820s: cotton spinners from Lancashire factory towns and London silk weavers. For each case, Steinberg closely examines the labor process, industrial organization, social life, community politics, discursive struggles, and collective actions. By describing how workers shared experiences of exploitation and oppression in their daily lives, he shows how discourses of contention were products of struggle and how they framed possibilities for collective action. Embracing work in literary theory, sociocultural psychology, and cultural studies, Fighting Words claims a middle ground between postmodern and materialist analyses.

Excerpt

This book has linked subjects--the historical processes of class formation and the dynamics of contentious collective action. the principal thread tying them together is the role of discourse in each process. in both my theoretical statements and my historical case studies, I explain how the analysis of discourse provides more encompassing understandings of class formation and collective action. the volume opens with one theoretical and one historiographic chapter, but throughout most of the book analyses of discourse, collective action, and processes of class formation emerge in these histories of the early nineteenth century. the two subjects are intertwined in detailed historical accounts of the silk weavers of London's Spitalfields district and the cotton spinners of the towns of Ashton and Statybridge in the northern industrial county of Lancashire. Before weaving this analytic whole cloth, let me outline the focuses and my purposes in studying them.

Most of us have found ourselves bleary-eyed in front of the tv at some point, watching a grade-B western. in virtually every one of these films, two cowboys at some critical juncture square off on Main Street outside the saloon, and an exchange between them heats up. Finally, hands perched on his gun handles, one makes a patented quick move, exclaiming, "Why, them's fightin' words!" Fighting words are the recurring objects of analysis in this study.

In my investigation of fighting words--what I also call discourses of contention--I hope to build an analytical bridge between what have been two . . .

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