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

By Marc W. Steinberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR Local Political Culture: From Reciprocity to Hegemony

The process of class was energized in the sphere of labor, but it percolated in diverse areas of social and political life. Within the larger community, political ties--mutually recognized rights and obligations-- were equally the stuff of class. Within these relations, weavers and other working people mastered languages of political obligations that could be appropriated as lighting words. Also within this local political culture, lines of power and culpability were publicly drawn. As Theodore Koditschek reminds us of Thompson's vision of class formation, it "is a concrete historical process that evolves within the life of the actual human community, generating its wider social solidarities out of common experiences that can be felt on a more immediate and comprehensible plane" ( 1990, p. 22). That plane was often the common ground of the civil parish and its community.

Thompson's critics have widely questioned the link between class and community. Craig Calhoun ( 1982, 1983) argues that in the transformation to modernity the development of class and an urban industrial order, and the maintenance of community stood in fairly clear tension. Patrick Joyce, in his analysis of class conflict and deference in Victorian Lancashire textile towns, questions the link between urbanization and the class divide. He maintains that the propinquity of working peoples' social lives to those of their employers fostered a consciousness of deference rather than division ( 1975, pp. 116-119). In a different light, James Ver

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