Labour History Review

Consumer history and the dilemmas of working-class history

Labour History Review (1997), 62, (3), 261–274.

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An American example is ‘ILWCH Roundtable: What Next for Labor and Working Class History?’, International Labor and Working Class History, no. 46, 1994, pp. 7-92. Google Scholar

An obvious reference point is Joan Scott's Gender and the Politics of History, New York, 1988. Note too Patrick Joyce, ‘The End of Social History’, Social History, vol. 20, no. 1, 1995, pp. 73-92. For an insightful and balanced review of some of this literature from a French perspective, see Lenard Berlanstein (ed.), Rethinking Labor History: Essays on Discourse and Class Analysis, Urbana, 1993. The opposite direction is advocated in Theda Skocpol (ed.), Bringing the State Back In, New York, 1985. Gender and the Politics of History Google Scholar

Michael Denning, ‘The End of Mass Culture’, International Labor and Working Class Culture, no. 37, 1990, pp. 5-17 and critiques; Mouvement social, no. 152, 1990, is devoted to popular culture, and History and Culture, no. 7, 1990, focuses on approaches to the history of consumerism. ‘The End of Mass Culture’ International Labor and Working Class Culture 5 17 Google Scholar

These alternatives appeared in the debate of the character of the French unions before the war: Peter Stearns, Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor, New Brunswick, NJ, 1971, and Bernard Moss, The Origins of the French Labor Movement, 1830-1914, Berkeley, 1976. Similar issues underlie Howard Kimeldorf's ‘Bring Unions Back (Or Why We Need a New Old Labor History)’, and responses to it in Labor History, vol. 32, no. 1, 1991, pp. 91-127, and the debates around David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor, New York, 1987, and Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, 1986. Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor Google Scholar

See, for example, Chantal Mouffe, in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Urbana, 1988, pp. 91-3, and David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, 1989, chapters 8 and 9. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture 91 3 Google Scholar

Michael Burawoy, Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism, Chicago, 1979; Jonathan Zeitlin and Steven Tolliday (eds.), The Automobile Industry and its Workers: Between Fordism and Flexibility, New York, 1987; Wayne Lewchuk, American Technology and the British Vehicle Industry, Cambridge, 1987; Herbert Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste, New York, 1974, and J. Goldthorpe et al., The Affluent Worker in the Class Structure, Cambridge, Mass, 1969, chapter 4. Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism Google Scholar

Jean Baudrillard, America, 1988. See also Martyn Lee, Consumer Culture Reborn: The Cultural Politics of Consumption, 1993. Google Scholar

Good brief critical histories of this literature are in John Clarke, ‘Pessimism versus Populism: The Problematic Politics of Popular Culture’, and Richard Butsch, ‘Leisure and Hegemony in America’, in Richard Butsch (ed.), For Run and Profit: The Transformation of Leisure into Consumption, Philadelphia, 1990, pp. 28-46 and 3-27; Chas Critcher and John Clarke, The Devil Makes Work: Leisure in Capitalist Britain, Urbana, 1985, especially chapter 6; Tony Bennett. ‘The Politics of "the Popular" and Popular Culture’, in Tony Bennett, G. Martin, Colin Mercer and Janet Woollacoott (eds.), Popular Culture and Social Relations, Milton Keynes, 1986, pp. 6-20; Denning, ‘End of Mass Culture’; and M. Debouzy, ‘De la production à la réception de la culture’, Mouvement social, no. 152, 1990, pp. 33-45. For Run and Profit: The Transformation of Leisure into Consumption 28 46 Google Scholar

Major contributions to this substantial literature have largely concerned Britain. These include Peter Bailey, Leisure and Class in Victorian England: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830-1885, 1978; R. W. Malcolmson, Popular Recreations in English Society 1700-1850, Cambridge, 1973; and Eileen Yeo and Stephen Yeo (eds.), Popular Culture and Class Conflict, 1590-1914, Brighton, 1981. Among the useful American histories are Michael Denning, Mechanical Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America, New York, 1987; Lawrence Levine, Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, Cambridge, Mass, 1988; Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century Mew York, Philadelphia, 1986; and Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920, New York, 1983. French sources include Adeline Daumard, Oisiviété et loisirs dans les sociétés occidentes au xix siècle, Paris, 1983, and André Rauch, Vacances et pratiques corporelles, Paris, 1988. A recent international discussion is in ‘Drinking and the Working Class’, International Labor and Working Class History, no. 45, 1994, pp. 1-63. Google Scholar

Some early twentieth-century American histories are David Nasaw, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements, New York, 1993; John Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, New York, 1978; Lewis Erenberg, Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930, Westport, Conn., 1981; Peiss, Amusements, chapters 3-4; Stuart Ewen, Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness, new edition, Minneapolis, 1992; and Ronald Edsforth and Larry Bennett, Popular Culture and Political Change in Modern America, Albany, NY, 1991. British sources include Hart Cantelan, Robert Hollands and Alan Tomlinson (eds.), Leisure, Sport and Working Class Culture, Toronto, 1988, pp. 31-64; Frederic Jameson (ed.), Formations of Pleasure, 1983; and, of course, Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (eds.), Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subculture in Post-War Britain, 1976. Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements Google Scholar

Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy, 1957, chapter 1. Google Scholar

John Cumbler, Working-Class Community in Industrial America: Work, Leisure and Struggle in Two Industrial Cities, Westport, Conn., 1979; Ronald Edsforth, Class Conflict and Cultural Consensus: The Making of a Mass Consumer Society in Flint, Michigan, New Brunswick, NJ, 1987; Steven Ross, Workers on the Edge: Work, Leisure, and Politics in Industrializing Cincinnati, 1788-1890, Urbana, 1985 and America's Labor Day: The Dilemma of a Workers' Celebration', Journal of American History, vol. 78, no. 4, 1992, pp. 1294-1323. Working-Class Community in Industrial America: Work, Leisure and Struggle in Two Industrial Cities Google Scholar

Clarke, ‘Pessimism versus Populism’, and Tony Bennett, ‘The Turn to Gramsci’, in Bennett et al., Popular Culture, pp. xi-xiv. Google Scholar

G. Stedman Jones, Languages of Class, 1983, pp. 86-7; Richard Johnson, ‘Culture and the Historians’, in John Clarke, Chas Critcher and Richard Johnson (eds.), Working-Class Culture: Studies in History and Theory, 1979, pp. 75-102. Google Scholar

Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, 1989, chapter 1; Chandra Mukerji, From Graven Images: Patterns of Modern Materialism, New York, 1983, pp. 2-27; Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, The World of Goods, New York, 1979, pp. 59-84; and Marshall Sahlins, Culture and Practical Reason, Chicago, 1978, chapter 5. See also Gilles Lipovetsky, The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy, Princeton, 1994; Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge, 1986; and P. Yonnet, Jeux, modes et masses, Paris, 1985. Google Scholar

Daniel Miller, Material Culture and Mass Consumption, Oxford, 1987, pp. 10-11, and D. Miller (ed.), Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Study, 1995. Google Scholar

Douglas and Isherwood, The World of Goods, pp. 59-84, and for a more populist version, see John Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture, Boston, 1989. Google Scholar

Andrew Ross, No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture, 1989, chapters 1, 2 and 4 especially. For a more ‘materialist’ version, see Ben Fine and Ellen Leopold, The World of Consumption, 1993. Google Scholar

Johnson, ‘Culture and the Historians’; Royden Harrison, ‘Popular Culture as a Third Culture: The Debate in England since 1945’, in Lex Heerma van Voss and Frits van Holthoon (eds.), Working Class and Popular Culture, Amsterdam, 1988, pp. 33-42. While most are familiar with the jeremiads on mass culture of the Frankfurt school, the abiding influence of Thorstein Veblen, Simon Patten and Robert Lynd in the US, the Leavises and J. B. Priestley in Britain and Maurice Halbwachs in France are also important in shaping the literature on consumer culture. Some Anglo-American interpretations include Daniel Horowitz, The Morality of Spending: Attitudes Toward Consumer Society in America, 1875-1940, Baltimore, 1985; Dan LeMahieu, Culture for Democracy; Ross, No Respect; and Fox and Lears, Culture of Consumption. Consider also my Time and Money: The Making of Consumer Culture, 1993, chapters 2 and 3. Working Class and Popular Culture 33 42 Google Scholar

Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914; Stanford, 1990, pp. 58-70, 168-204; Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, New York, 1967; Raymond Williams, ‘Advertising the Magic System’, in his Problems in Materialism and Culture, 1980; and Jean Baudrillard, Pour une critique de l'économie politique du signe, Paris, 1979. The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914 58 70 Google Scholar

Note, for example, Robin Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, New York, 1994. Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class Google Scholar

Bryan Palmer, Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History, Philadelphia, 1990, chapter 4. Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History Google Scholar

Liz Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, New York, 1990, chapters 3 and 8. British historians' efforts to link popular culture and politics include John Marriott, The Culture of Labourism: The East End Between the Wars, Edinburgh, 1990, and N. Tiratsoo, Reconstruction, Affluence and Labour Politics: Coventry, 1945-1960, 1990. Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 Google Scholar

Dana Frank, Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender and the Seattle Labor Movement, 1919-1929, Cambridge, 1994, and Marcel Van Der Linden, ‘Working Class Consumer Power’, International Labor and Working Class History, no. 46, 1994, pp. 109-121. Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender and the Seattle Labor Movement, 1919-1929 Google Scholar

Some examples are Paul Johnson, Saving and Spending: The Working-Class Economy in Britain 1870-1929, Oxford, 1885; Jane Lewis (ed.), Labour and Love: Women's Experience in Home and Family, 1986; Deidre Beddoe, Back to Home and Duty: Women between the Wars, 1918-1939, 1989; Ross McKibbin, The Ideologies of Class. Social Relations in Britain 1880-1950, Oxford, 1990; and Winifred Wandersee, Women's Work and Family Values, 1920-1940, Cambridge, Mass, 1981. Saving and Spending: The Working-Class Economy in Britain 1870-1929 Google Scholar

George Orwell, Coming Up for Air, New York, 1950 ed., p. 12. Coming Up for Air 12 Google Scholar

Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, The Hidden Injuries of Class, New York, 1972. The Hidden Injuries of Class Google Scholar

Steven Gelber, ‘Do-It-Yourself: Constructing, Repairing and Maintaining Domestic Masculinity’, American Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 1, 1997, pp. 66-112. ‘Do-It-Yourself: Constructing, Repairing and Maintaining Domestic Masculinity’ American Quarterly 49 66 112 Google Scholar

Peter Willmott and Michael Young, Family and Class in a London Suburb, 1960, pp. 22-7. Google Scholar

Examples of this literature are Virginia Robie, The Quest for the Quaint, Boston, 1917, and Alice Van Leer Carrick, The Next-to-Nothing House, Boston, 1922. The Quest for the Quaint Google Scholar

Phyllis Willmott, Growing Up in a London Village: Family Life between the Wars, 1974, pp. 26-7. See also Eugene Rochberg-Halton, Meaning and Modernity: Social Theory in Pragmatic Attitude, Chicago, 1986, pp. 155-88 and Roger Silverstone (ed.), Visions of Suburbia, 1996. Google Scholar

The relationship between time, especially on the linkage between the working week and the weekend, and television watching as a shaper of leisure, is explored in H. Sahin and J.P Robinson, ‘Beyond the Realm of Necessity: Television and the Colonisation of Time’, Media, Culture and Society, vol. 3, no. 1, 1981, pp. 85-95. See also J. Robinson and G. Godbey, Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use their Time, University Park, Penn., 1997. ‘Beyond the Realm of Necessity: Television and the Colonisation of Time’ Media, Culture and Society 3 85 95 Google Scholar

This theme is discussed in Cross, Time and Money, chapter 7. Google Scholar

Jo Anne Vanek, ‘Time Spent in Housework’, Scientific American, November, 1974, pp. 116-20. ‘Time Spent in Housework’ Scientific American 116 20 Google Scholar

Note, for example, E. Gamarnikov et al. (eds.), The Public and the Private, 1983, and M. Rosaldo, ‘Woman, Culture and Society’, in M. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (eds.), Women, Culture and Society, Stanford, 1974, chapter 1. Google Scholar

Eviatar Zerubavel, ‘Private-Time and Public-Time’, in John Hassard (ed.), The Sociology of Time, 1990, pp. 168-87. ‘Private-Time and Public-Time’ The Sociology of Time 168 87 Google Scholar

See, for example, James Obelkevich and Peter Catterall (eds.), Understanding Post-War British Society, 1994. Google Scholar

An interesting summary is in James Wunsch, ‘The Surburban Cliche’, Journal of Social History, vol. 28, no. 3, 1995, pp. 643-68. ‘The Surburban Cliche’ Journal of Social History 28 643 68 Google Scholar

A solid exception is Herrick Chapman's State Capitalism and Working-Class Radicalism in the French Aircraft Industry, Berkeley, 1990. In the context of worktime, these points are developed in my A Quest for Time: The Decline of Work in Britain and France, 1840-1940, Berkeley, 1989, chapters 3, 5, 7 and 8. For a contrary, but intriguing, view see Michael Seidman, Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the Popular Fronts, Berkeley, 1990. State Capitalism and Working-Class Radicalism in the French Aircraft Industry Google Scholar

Harold Perkin, The Rise of Professional Society in England since 1880, 1989. Google Scholar

Note Victoria de Grazia, ‘Beyond Time and Money’, International Labor and Working Class History, no. 43, 1993, pp. 24-30. ‘Beyond Time and Money’ International Labor and Working Class History 24 30 Google Scholar

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Cross, Gary