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

By Marc W. Steinberg | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION Theoretical and Historiographical Considerations

This is a book about conjunctions and relations. Most concretely, it is about how two groups of working people--silk weavers and cotton spinners--facing difficult and sometimes tragic circumstances, combined to resist exploitation and oppression. These particular tales, however, illuminate a larger theoretical perspective on how structuring processes of inequality combine.

As people face conditions of inequality, they react simultaneously to a welter of circumstances that they did not create and yet sometimes seek to change. Analytically, social scientists and historians have tried to tease out and disaggregate these structuring processes to probe how each contributes to inequality and its transformation. Broadly speaking, the focus of much recent work has been to understand the conjoining and relations between the material and discursive structures of inequality. In focusing on the material structures, we analyze how the concrete processes of production and reproduction create durable patterns of interaction. We fix on how work and co-habitation, social and economic ties within communities, and the authoritative use of power in political bodies are systemically organized in enduring groups and networks. This focus on the discursive highlights how these patterned forms of interaction are infused with meaning and given enduring structures of intelligibility, purpose, and legitimacy. This task primarily involves the analysis of language; but it also encompasses how other forms of social action--such as collective gather-

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