England's Great Transformation"Law, Labor, and the Industrial Revolution"

England's Great Transformation"Law, Labor, and the Industrial Revolution"

Marc W. Steinberg

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226329819

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The broad goal of this book is to combine historical materialism and historical institutionalism through a gendered lens. Both concern how durable social structures construct and maintain asymmetries of power. The study pursues a concerted institutional analysis of class power and the labor process and ways that legal practices beyond the workplace impact struggles over its control. The labor contract was integral to labor control in historical capitalist development, and how labor control was accomplished through juridical authority. To do so it goes beyond current neo-marxist perspectives on labor control. The substantive analysis centers on master and servant laws in mid-Victorian England, with local and national studies. Under the law disobeying a master in a contract of service was a criminal offense. The book presents local case studies of how employers in the pottery (Hanley), fish trawling (Hull), needlemaking and agricultural (Redditch) sectors institutionalized reliance on these laws for labor control for 1864-75. They highlight how configurations of the production process, the social relations in them, the shape of labor markets, and the local organization of political and juridical power determined this path. The national analysis involves a critique and reinterpretation of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation and his thesis of the ‘double movement’. It argues that labor remained legally embedded in society throughout most of the nineteenth century, and its relative disembedding was at the hands of labor unions, against the interests of many employers in retaining these laws. The book concludes with contemporary reflections on its broad thesis.