Politics in mechanics' institutes, 1820-1850: A study in conflict.

2015-11-19T09:16:08Z (GMT) by Colin M. Turner
Mechanics' institutes were supported and opposed by members of all the major political and religious groupings in the period 1820-1850. The institutes transmitted different political, economic, cultural, and religious programmes, explicit and hidden, according to which group or alliance of groups was in control. The institutes were used for different purposes by different political groups. The major power groups, assumed to be in conflict or alliance on any particular institute were: a reformist whig group heavily representative of the middle class and tending to non-conformism; a conservative traditionalist group heavily representative of the landed class and tending to anglicanism; and a radical working class group. Institutes can be categorised on the basis of the conflict-alliance relationship of these three classes, and six categories are postulated and C6U1 be tested against the histories of individual institutes. Examples of institutes are found to exist for all six categories, although some institutes are hybrid and others move between categories over time. Most of the institutes examined reflected the economic and political assumptions of urban industrial capitalism, though in many cases with some accomodation with conservative and anglican thinking. Assumptions of both groups tended to fuse together in presentation of a common programme of moral and cultural education that was harmonious with political and economic beliefs and activities of industrial capitalism and also with middle class concepts of religious and moral virtue. Because most institutes overtly presented a programme that was based on the economic self-interest of the middle and upper classes, albeit justified on the grounds that their own self-interest coincided with national interest, working class representation was low throughout the period, and radical working class institutes with an alternative political and cultural, programme were few and did not survive long.




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