Re: [OPE-L] the scope and emphasis of working-class studies

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon Apr 18 2005 - 10:52:15 EDT

At 9:51 AM -0400 4/18/05, Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM wrote:
>  > "Labour History as the History of Multitudes"
>>  Marcel van der Linden, Multitudes
>>>    If this conclusion is justified, then labour historians will indeed
>>  be expected to expand their field of research considerably. Linebaugh
>>  and Rediker write: "The emphasis in modern labor history on the
>>  white, male, skilled, waged, nationalist, propertied artisan/citizen
>>  or industrial worker has hidden the history of the Atlantic
>>  proletariat of the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth
>>  centuries." (Linebaugh and Rediker, 332)
>From the standpoint of someone who taught in a labor studies program
>for 19 years and is familiar with the way in which labor history and other
>working-class studies are taught,  this idea that the emphasis of
>contemporary labor historians is on "white, skilled, waged,
>nationalist, propertied artisan/citizen or industrial worker ..." is quite

  Linebaugh and Rediker have not written clearly, 
I think, in the above. That is, by modern labor 
history I think they are referring both to the 
history of modern labor and to the work of 
contemporary labor historians.

The point here is that other forms of dependent 
labor are not always recognized as part of the 
modern working class; they are understood for 
example as feudal relics in Corrigan's 
expression. In this way the unfree suffer the 
denial of coevalness with the free--to use 
Fabian's famous expression. The question is how 
the history of the modern working class is 
understood. It is not always the denial of 
recognition but the question of recognition as 
what. The same debate has been carried out over 
semi feudalism in India, with Banaji drawing from 
Rudra and Bardhan on one side and Bhaduri on the 

But in a way your point is self defeating--to the 
extent that Linebaugh and Rediker are wrong about 
how modern labor historians understand the 
history of modern labor, then you and Nicky are 
at variance with them as their vision has not 
been narrowed by formalist definitions of what 
modern wage labor has been and can be.

>  From the standpoint of classroom instruction, I know of no
>instructor of labor history or working-class studies for whom the
>"emphasis" is so narrowly understood.

van der Linden himself then cites these studies

See for example Fred Krissman, "California's 
Agricultural Labor Market: Historical Variations 
in the Use of Unfree Labor, c. 1769-1994," in 
Brass and Van der Linden, Free and Unfree Labour, 
201-38; Josť de Souza Martins, "The Reappearance 
of Slavery and the Reproduction of Capital on the 
Brazilian Frontier," in Brass and Van der Linden, 
Free and Unfree Labour, 281-302 and Miriam J. 
Wells, "The Resurgence of Sharecropping : 
Historical Anomaly or Political Strategy ?" 
American Journal of Sociology, 90 (1984-85), 1-29.

>   Moreover, even the most casual
>examination of journals relating to labor history -- and dissertations
>written related to labor studies -- will show that the claim above about
>the narrow "field of research" and the emphasis among those doing
>research on these subjects is so far from the truth that it is comical:
>it's as if L & R are stuck in a time warp and haven't been brought up
>to date about research in the last 35 years.
>It is also not true that bonded labour, including slavery,  is not discussed
>or emphasized by labor historians.

The only question is not recognition but recognition as what? Feudal relics?

>   Indeed, there has been an enormous
>amount of  research on that topic in recent decades.  I certainly know of no
>course in US labor history (which includes the 19th Century) that
>doesn't examine slavery.  Indeed, I know of no US labor historian who
>thinks that subject isn't important from the standpoint of comprehending
>subsequent developments in US  history and divisions within the
>working class.
>It is simply amazing to me that anyone would take such a claim seriously.
>But, I guess among politically-inspired researchers there's always the
>temptation to make exaggerated claims.

I cannot access David Brion Davis' review, but I 
think he has written a very critical one.


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