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Narrativity, Narrative Identity, and Social Action: Rethinking English Working-Class Formation

  • Margaret R. Somers

Extract

The nineteenth-century English working class bears a most peculiar burden and embodies a most peculiar paradox. Like Auden’s academic warriors who spar with “smiles and Christian names,” historians, economists, and sociologists have pushed and prodded early nineteenth-century English working people into procrustean political positions to support or disconfirm Marx’s predictions of revolutionary class conflict erupting from the contradictions of capitalism. A Manichaean concern locks the debate into an impasse. Were early nineteenth-century workers revolutionary or reformist? Was there a class struggle in the industrial revolution? The questions remain unresolved. Yet, surely it is the history of English working peoples that has suffered from this burden of praising or burying Marxism through competing interpretations of their early stories?

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