Luxury and labour : ideas of labouring-class consumption in eighteenth-century England
This thesis examines changing ideas of labouring-class consumption in eighteenthcentury England. Recent social and economic history has rewritten eighteenthcentury England in terms of the formation of a commercial society. Against this backdrop, intellectual and cultural historians have uncovered the formation of concepts and practices appropriate for a civilised commercial society. Yet, in spite of the growing evidence that they were increasingly participating in the developing world of goods, little work has focused on the public discussion of the labouring classes' consumer desires. The study is based on the close analysis of pamphlet literature discussing the labouring classes. It tracks the ideas through which the propertied classes viewed labouring-class consumption and attempted to determine the exact status and function of their desires in a commercial society. From within an early eighteenth-century position which viewed the appetites of the poor as being a species of luxury, the thesis tracks the emergence of categories and concepts that made it possible to recognise the labouring classes' consumer desires as part of commercial society's progressive development. In the later years of the century, this optimism faded as the interests of capital accumulation and the demands of labourers were increasingly recognised to be contradictory. Ultimately, the thesis argues that we cannot understand the ideological representation of the needs and desires of the poor without also tracing the changing conceptualisation of their labour, in the same way that we cannot understand the formation of a commercial society without reference to proletarianisation and the attack on customary culture. The coalescing practices of a commercial society, and their ideological expression, rested upon the ever greater alienation of the labouring classes, from their human needs and powers.