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A Comparative Study of Class Relationships and Institutional Orders in Birmingham and Sheffield between 1830 and 1895 with Particular Reference to the Spheres of Education, Industry and Politics

posted on 25.11.2010, 16:35 by Dennis Smith
Birmingham and Sheffield had strategic significance — demographically, politically and technologically — in English society during this period. Although their local industries had many similarities, particularly before 1850, structures of social differentiation and integration differed greatly between the two cities. These structures are examined in terms of two considerations: the processes of conflict and accommodation between a weakening commercialised agrarian order focused upon the county and the parish and a strengthening urban industrial order centred upon the large manufacturing city; and the shift of social and political initiative away from lower levels of integration (such as the neighbourhood and the parish) towards higher levels of integration, especially national networks of status and influence focused upon the metropolis. Birmingham had a very complex division of labour in which commercial and professional occupations were better represented than in Sheffield, the latter city supporting a narrower range of occupations and having a highly specialised position within the national division of labour. The balance of power between town and countryside was skewed more heavily towards the latter in the case of Sheffield for much of the period. Birmingham occupied a much more central position in the national network of communications. Strong neighbourhood-based movements (political, industrial, religious) in Sheffield were swamped by the development of heavy steel industry oriented to regional and national networks. Municipal solidarity remained very weak and class divisions very pronounced. Sheffield's largest manufacturers resisted arbitration, neglected civic involvements and sought to use education as a cheap but efficient way of subordinating their workforce. In education, industry and local government at Birmingham norms and practices oriented to the old agrarian and parochial order and the new constraints of industrial capitalism were interwoven, tending to diffuse conflict. Birmingham's bourgeoisie achieved greater solidarity and dominance within the city and great influence regionally and nationally.


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University of Leicester

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