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

By Marc W. Steinberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TW0 A Tale of Two Areas

In this book I focus on two trade groups--the silk weavers of Spitalfields and the cotton spinners of Ashton and Stalybridge--and the regions in which they lived. My analysis centers on how the integument of social, political, and community life bounded these groups' existence and shaped their class experiences. I also focus on how those class experiences were articulated and mediated through the fighting words of the landmark struggles in their collective histories. As Thompson and many others have maintained, however, to understand class we must start in the actual locales of lived experience. This chapter introduces the two regions in which these experiences took form, in which weavers and spinners struggled to maintain their economic security and created their collective identities. I show the similarities and contrasts of these surroundings; how patterns of community development, social geography, social life, and senses of community created at once distinctive yet conjoined foundations for class experiences. After providing this introduction to the two terrains, the discussion moves to the more specific world of silk production.

In some senses, Spitalfields, on the one hand, and Ashton and Stalybridge, on the other, were worlds apart. Spitalfields lay within the eastern confines of the great city that dwarfed all others--London--in the rough and bawdy world of common labor that serviced the land of high society, highmindedness, and high finance to the west. Spanning five parishes,

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