Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

Afterword

RICHARD OHMANN

As Carol Stabile pointed out in this book's Introduction, centuries are not historically tidy packages. Why should 1900 make even as much boundary sense as 1776 or 1865 or 1940, let alone more? Only by chance. But this book's title implies a claim for significance in that year, and the various contributions suggest a range of plus or minus twenty-five. In Selling Culture I committed myself to making boundary sense of 1900 (plus or minus ten), and this was hardly an original periodization. By numerical chance but with something like historical inevitability, capitalism changed around 1900, most punctually in the United States. The wave of mergers in 1898-1899 announced the epoch of the large, stable corporation. Many other changes both helped achieve this one and followed in its train. New institutions, new social relations, a new class, new forms of culture, new patterns of daily life, a new order that has held together at least until the day before yesterday, historically speaking. Such was my argument, and that of many other historians. The scholars whose work is here gathered put themselves in the same company, though less doggedly than I -- doubtless to the relief of many readers with little interest in totalizing stories of historical change. This book embraces a richness and a variety of topics enticing in their own right, and readers for whom that is enough may break off here.

But I want to carry forward the thought-experiment of totality for a few pages, and reflect upon its implications. A deep change in social relations around 1900 was the formation of a professional-managerial class (PMC), supplanting and shouldering aside the old middle class of small merchants and local gentry. The PMC created a place for itself in the urbanizing, corporate world, offering to make rational sense of the industrial system, manage social conflicts, and -- with its newly credentialed skills -- turn crises into solvable problems. Amos Tevelow nicely describes three characteristic PMC projects: the organization of professional groups like the American Social Science Association around new intellectual capital and the promise of expert amelioration of social disorder; the municipal reform movement that bent the combined efforts of lawyers, accountants, economists, political scientists, social workers, administrators, and progressive

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