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

By Neil J. Smelser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
STRUCTURAL DIFFERENTIATION IN WEAVING

In one sense the transition from hand-loom to power-loom weaving appears to be more straightforward than the jerky and sporadic advance of the spinning branches. Weaving machinery was not divided into so many major sub-types as the spinning machinery, and the power-loom, once it became competitive in the 1820's, marched irresistibly and cruelly over the helpless mass of hand-loom weavers. In addition to this relatively clear case of industrial dis- placement, however, we must consider also several minor developments between the 1770's and the 1840's such as structural changes within hand-loom weaving itself and the rise of "hand-loom factories" in the early nineteenth century. Neither of these is very important quantitatively, but each is instructive as an instance of structural differentiation.

In analysing these developments, we must neglect for the time being the social aspects of the decline of the hand-loom weavers. As in the preceding chapters, we shall consider structural differentiation only from the industrial standpoint. The weavers' sufferings belong to another sequence of change, namely the structural differentiation of the family. Until later chapters, therefore, we shall separate the strictly industrial aspects of the weaving trade from the "human" aspects.

Step 1. Dissatisfaction and a Sense of Opportunity . The dramatic arrival of spinning machinery in the eighteenth century reversed the yarn supply situation of twenty years earlier, and hence created new dissatisfactions with the allocation of resources in the industry (I-5):

The first great effect of the introduction of the spinning machinery, had been to produce yarn with such rapidity and quantity, as to cause an extreme demand for weavers to convert the articles into cloth; and the productive powers of machinery became so amazing, as totally to disable the hand-loom from maintaining a proportionate pace.1

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1
Butterworth, Historical Sketches of Oldham, pp. 157-8, 140-41. Also Baines, History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain, p. 183, and R. MacIntyre, "Textile Industries," in A. McLean (ed.), Local Industries of Glasgow and the West of Scotland ( Glasgow, 1901), pp. 137-8.

-129-

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