E. P. Thompson's ground-breaking article on the English food riots of the 1700 and 1800s.
See his book, Customs in common, for an interesting follow-up article.
Eighteenth-century Britain saw a profound distancing between the culture of the patricians and the plebs. E. P. Thompson explains why in this series of brilliant essays on the customs of the working people, which, he argues, emerged as a culture of resistance towards an innovative market economy.
He discusses 'wife sales' as a form of unofficial divorce, the 'rough music' or ritual mockery directed at transgressors, the ways a rebellious traditional culture fought back against the enclosure movement, 'free markets' in grain and the work-discipline of early industrial capitalism. The result is a vividly original book, a superb companion volume to E. P.
"The passage of the early English working class from revolt to political integration is often explained solely by Britain's ascendancy as the first major imperialist power. In this essay Nairn focuses upon the political culture which British workers inherited from the British bourgeois class and argues that this was a crucial element in its domestication. Taking as his starting point Edward Thompson's pioneering and influential work The making of the English working class he seeks to demonstrate that 'history from below' must be complemented by a 'history from above'."
Tom Nairn was an editor of New Left Review and the author of May 1968: The Beginning of the End (UK, 1968).
The English working class is one of the enigmas of modern history. Its development as a class is divided into two great phases, and there appears at first sight to be hardly any connection between them.
Thompson brilliantly explores the changing relationship to time in class society, describing the change from 'time passed' to 'time spent'; the class struggle over the creation of "the new universe of disciplined time" in factory and school.
[b]We kept an old Servant whose name was Wright, in constant Work, though paid by the Week, he was a Wheel-Wright by Trade. It happen'd one Morning that a Cart being Broken-down upon the Road...