Social economy : cultures of work and community in mid-Victorian England
The Victorians were obsessed with work. In the numerous mid-century inquiries into the workplace labour emerged as a moral, social, political, as well as an economic category. These issues were part of a broader strategy of understanding the meanings and motivations of markets and production in an industrial age. On to the processes of production, gendered and racially specific categories could be mapped and relations and duties could be ordered. This thesis attempts to examine work as a cultural category which was mobilised in the mid-century to negotiate the roles and responsibilities of various actors. The period between the factory acts of the 1840s and those of the 1870s is the focus of this enquiry. Despite its perception as an age of stability, cushioned between two periods of relative unrest, the mid-century is seen here to bear witness to a wide ranging debate on the respective duties of state, employer and worker. Drawing on competing notions of markets and communities the subsequent discourses are considered as expressions of claims to middle-class authority, marking struggles between employers and other professionals to represent industrial England. Within these identified debates, the cultural significance and location of work appears to shift. Where the debates of the late forties might refer to local and paternalist forms of production, by the 1870s a greater emphasis was placed on the contribution and impact of work on the national community. In a bid to chart some of these shifts this thesis explores the centrality of work to emerging definitions of society. It is argued that the workplace and the market were considered as important sites, negotiating the inclusion of a respectable working class into public life and helping to define a democratic political community. This thesis emphasises the limits of these discourses by considering how the mid-century experience of industrial democracy exposed the tensions in political economy and liberal consensus.