Skip to main content Accessibility help

Class formation and capitalism. A second look at a classic*

  • Margaret R. Somers (a1)


Studies of class-formation have long been dominated by an espitemology of absensethe study of the absence of Marx's predicted revolutionary class consciousness among the Western working class. Katznelson's and Zolberg's pathbreaking Working-Class Formation: Ninetenth-century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (1986) posed a major challenge to this tradition. Instead of being seen as deviant or exceptional, moreover, the individual cases of class formation are analysed as variations that can only be explained by each nation's pattern of historicalprimarily politicalformation. An instant classic, Working-Class Formation has not to date been surpassed by subsequent studies. This essay reviews the strenghts and the weaknesses of this classic volume, suggesting in the final analysis that it does not quite realize the full extent of its radical implications.

Les travaux sur la formation des classes sociales ont t longtemps domins par une pistmologie de l'absence de conscience rvolutionnaire de la classe ouvrire europenne annonce par Marx. L'ouvrage pionnier de Katznelson et Zolberg, Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (1986) a rompu avec cette tradition en prsentant un volume comparatiste rigoureux. L'introduction de Katznelson, en particulier, dfinit les conclusions conceptuelles possibles mises en jeu dans les trajectoires de la formation de classe. Au lieu d'tre perus comme dviants ou exeeptionnels , les cas nationaux sont analyss comme des variations ne pouvant tre expliques que par le modle de formation historique principalement politique de chaque nation. Devenu immdiatement classique, Workingclass Formation n'a pas, ce jour, t dpass. Cet essai passe en revue les forces et les faiblesses de l'uvre, pour condure qu'il n'a pas couvert l'entire tendue de ses implications fondamentales.

Lange Zeit wurden Untersuchungen ber die Klassenbildung vom Ausbleiben des von Marx vorhergesagten Klassenbewutseins der westlichen Arbeiterklasse geprgt. Das bahnbrechende Buch Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (1986) der Autoren Katznelson und Zolberg hat sich von diesem Interpretationsstandpunkt gelst und eine vergleichende Studie erstellt. Besonders die Einfhrung Katznelsons definiert die konzeptuellen Schlufolgerungen neu, die die Ausrichtungen der Klassenbildung beinhalten. Anstatt sie als abweichend oder auergewhnlich zu betrachten, werden die nationalen Formen der Klassenbildung vielmehr als Varianten interpretiert, die allein durch die historische besonders politische Entstehungsgeschichte jedes einzelnen Staates erklrt werden knnen. Working-class Formation , schnell zum Klassiker geworden, ist bis heute nicht bertroffen worden. Dieser Aufsatz veranschaulicht seine Strken und Schwchen und verweist in der Schlufolgerung darauf, da er jedoch nicht alien Interpretationsanstzen gerecht wird.



Hide All
Alexander, Sally, 1983, Women, Class and Sexual Differences in the 1830s and 1840s: Some Reflections on the Writing of a Feminist History, History Workshop Journal 17: 125–49.
Aminzade, Ron, 1993, Ballots and Barricades: Class Formation and Republic Politics in France 1830–1871 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Ashton, T. H. and Philpin, C. H. E., 1985, The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Preindustrial Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Baron, Ava (ed.), 1991, Work Engendered. Toward a New History of American Labor (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press).
Bearman, Peter, 1993, Relations into Rhetorics (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Blackbourn, David and Eley, Geoff, 1984, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth Century Germany (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press).
Block, Fred, 1987, Revising State Theory: Essays in Politics and Postindustrialism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press).
Block, Fred and Somers, Margaret R., 1984, Beyond the Economistic Fallacy: The Holistic Social Science of Karl Polanyi, in Vision and Method in Historical Sociology, edited by Skocpol, Theda (New York: Cambridge University Press), 4784.
Braun, Rudolf, 1990, Industrialisation and Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Calhoun, Craig, 1992, The Question of Class Struggle (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Canning, Kathleen, 1992, Gender and the Politics of Class Formation: Rethinking German Labor History, The American Historical Review 97 (June): 736–68.
Canning, Kathleen, 1994, Feminist History After the Linguistic Turn: Historicizing Discourse and Experience, Signs 19: 368404.
Cohen, G.A., 1978, Karl Marx's Theory of History; A Defence (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Davidoff, Leonore and Hall, Catherine, 1987, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London: Huchinson).
Durkheim, Émile, 1984, Division of Labor in Society (New York: Free Press).
Eley, Goeff and Nield, Keith, 1980, Why Does Social History Ignore Politics?, Social History 5: 249271.
Evans, Peter, Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda (eds), 1985, Bringing the State Back In (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Geertz, Clifford, 1983, Local Knowledge (New York: Basic Books).
Granovetter, Mark, 1985, Economic Action and Social Structure: the Problem of Embeddedness, American Journal of Sociology 91: 481510.
Hattam, Victoria, 1992, Labor Visions and State Power: the Origins of Business Unionism in the U.S. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Hirschman, Albert, 1984, Against Parsimony, American Economic Papers and Proceedings, 8996.
Hudson, Pat, 1989, Regions and Industries: A Perspective On the Industrial Revolution in Britain (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press).
Jessop, Bob, 1990, State Theory: Putting the Capitalist State in its Place (Cambridge: Polity).
Joyce, Patrick (ed.), 1987, The Historical Meanings of Work (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press).
Joyce, Patrick (ed.), 1991. Visions of the People. Industrial England and the Question of Class 1848–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Katznelson, Ira, 1981, City Trenches: Urban Politics and the Patterning of Class in the United States (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Katznelson, Ira, 1985, Working Class Formation and the State: Nineteenth Century England in American Perspective, Bringing the State Back, edited by Evans, Peter, Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda (New York: Cambridge University Press), 257–84.
Katznelson, Ira and Zolberg, Aristide R. (eds), 1986, Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Kimeldorf, Howard, 1988, Reds or Rackets? The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront (Berkeley: University of California Press).
Kimeldorf, Howard, 1990, Bringing Unions Back In, or Why We Need a New Old Labor History, Labor History.
Lazonick, William, 1979, Industrial Relations and Technical Change: The Case of the Self-Acting Mule, Cambridge Journal of Economics III.
Lipset, Seymour Martin, 1983, Radicalism or Reformism: The Sources of Working-Class Politics, American Political Science Review 77: 118.
McNall, Scott, Levine, Ronda, and Fantasia, Rick (eds), 1991, Bringing Class Back In: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives (Boulder: Westview Press).
O'Brien, Patrick and Keyder, Cagar, 1978, Economic Growth in Britain and France 1780–1914: Two Paths to the Twentieth Century (London: Allen & Unwin).
Polanyi, Karl, 1944, 1977, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press).
Pollard, Sidney, 1980, Region und Industrialisierung: Studien zur Rolle der Region in der Wirtschaftsgeschichte der letzten zwei Jahrhunderts. Region and Industrialisation: Studies in the Role of the Region in the Economic History of the Last Two Centuries (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht).
Pollard, Sidney, 1981, Peaceful Conquest. The Industrialization of Europe 1760–1970 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Reddy, William M., 1987, Money and Liberty in Modern Europe: A Critique of Historical Understanding (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press).
Roberts, Bryan, Finnecan, Ruth, and Gallie, Duncan, 1985, New Approaches to Economic Life: Economic Restructuring; Unemployment and the Social Division of Labour (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press).
Rose, Sonya, 1991, Limited Livelihoods (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press).
Sabel, Charles F., 1988, Protoindustry and the Problem of Capitalism as a Concept: Response to Jean H. Quataert, International Labor and Working-Class History 33: 3037.
Sabel, Charles and Zeitlin, Jonathan, 1985, Historical Alternatives to Mass Production: Politics, Markets and Technology in Nineteenth Century Industrialization, Past & Present 108 (August): 133176.
Sahlins, Marshall, 1976, Culture and Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Samuel, Raphael, 1979, Workshop of the World: Steam Power and Hand Technology in Mid-Victorian Britain, History Workshop Journal 3: 672.
Scott, Joan, 1988, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press).
Sewell, William H. Jr., 1980, Work and Revolution in France (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Sewell, William H. Jr., 1988, Uneven Development, the Autonomy of Politics, and the Dockworkers of Nineteenth-Century Marseille, American Historical Review 93: 604637.
Sewell, William H. Jr., 1990, How Classes are Made: Critical Reflections on E. P. Thompson's Theory of Working-Class Formation, in E. P. Thompson: Critical Perspectives, edited by Kaye, Harvey J. and McClelland, Keith (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press), 5077.
Sewell, William H. Jr., 1993, Toward a Post-Materialist Rhetoric for Labor History, in Rethinking Labor History. Essays on Discourse and Class Analysis, edited by Berlanstein, Leonard R. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 1538.
Skocpol, Theda and Somers, Margaret R., 1980, The Uses of Comparative History in Macrosocial Inquiry, Comparative Studies in Society and History 22: 174–97.
Sombart, Werner, 1976, Why is There No Socialism in the United States? (White Plains: M.E. Sharpe).
Somers, Margaret R., 1989, Workers of the World, Comparel, Contemporary Sociology 18: 325–30.
Somers, Margaret R., 1992, Narrativity, Narrative Identity, and Social Action: Rethinking English Working-Class Formation, Social Science History 16: 591630.
Somers, Margaret R., 1993, Citizenship and the Place of the Public Sphere: Law, Community, and Political Culture in the Transition to Democracy, American Sociological Review 58 (5): 587620.
Somers, Margaret R., 1995, The ‘Misteries’ of Property, in Early Modern Conceptions of Property, edited by Brewer, John (London, England: Routledge).
Somers, Margaret R. and Gibson, Gloria D., 1994, Reclaiming the Epistemological Other: Narrative and the Social Constitution of Identity, in Social Theory and the Politics of Identity (Oxford, England: Blackwell), 3799.
Stedman, Jones, Gareth, , 1983, Language of Class: Studies in English Working-Class History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Steinmetz, George, 1992, Reflections on the Role of Social Narratives in Working-Class Formation, Social Science History 16: 489516.
Steinmo, Sven, Thelen, Kathleen, and Longstreth, Frank (eds), 1992, Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).
Swedberg, Richard, 1987, Economic Sociology: Past and Present, Current Sociology 35: 1221.
Thompson, E.P., 1963, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Gollancz).
Thompson, E.P., 1965, The Peculiarities of the English, in The Socialist Register, edited by Miliband, Ralph and Saville, John (London: Merlin Press), 311–62.
Tomlins, Christopher, 1993, Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).
Vernon, James, 1993, Politics and the People: A Study in English Political Culture, c. 1815–1867 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press).
Wright, Erik Olin, 1989, The Debate on Classes (London, New York: Verso, 1989).
Zeitlin, Jonathon (ed.), 1985, Shop Floor Bargaining and the State: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press).
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie
  • ISSN: 0003-9756
  • EISSN: 1474-0583
  • URL: /core/journals/european-journal-of-sociology-archives-europeennes-de-sociologie
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed