Considerations of E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class have situated its 1963 publication within political, social, and intellectual contexts. A study of its cultural, emotional, and affective contexts remains lacking. This article locates The Making in the context of an important genre developed, on stage and on screen, at the moment of its publication: the “kitchen sink” dramas written by the so-called Angry Young Men, including Look Back in Anger (1956/1959), A Kind of Loving (1960/1962), and A Taste of Honey (1958/1961). It understands these texts as a collective commentary on loss—the loss experienced by Thompson's working class subject and by his learned readership, too—and assesses the affective dimensions of class beyond Thompson's rendition of class formation. In so doing, it follows on the work of feminist critics and cultural historians who have sought, at once, to augment and challenge the view of class formation that E. P. Thompson was able to provide. Through this engagement, it seeks to extend Thompson's interest in the contours of class formation into a domestic sphere concerned, among other things, with emotional relations, consumer practice, and reproductive politics.
E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class and Australia
E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class was influential in Australia as it was throughout the Anglophone world. The focus of interest changed over time, starting with the fate of those of The Making's radical protesters who were transported to the Australian colonies, and then focusing on questions of class formation and the relationship between agency and structure. The peak of influence was in the 1980s, especially in the rising field of social history, and a little later in the burgeoning field of cultural history. Yet The Making's own limitations on questions of gender, race, and colonialism meant that feminist and indigenous histories, which were transforming the discipline, engaged with it only indirectly. In recent years, as the turn to transnational, imperial, and Indigenous histories has taken hold, Thompson's influence has somewhat declined.
E. P. Thompson, Biko, and the Limits of The Making of the English Working Class
E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class exercised a substantial influence on the South African academy and acted as a key shaper of a “history from below” movement in the 1980s. While Thompson's influence in South Africa has been celebrated, the limits of his circulation are less frequently explored. This article takes on this task by placing The Making alongside Steve Biko's I Write What I Like. Biko was a major figure in the emergence of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). The article compares the interlinked formations of which the two texts formed a part—the BCM displaced white radical intellectuals, who retreated into class analysis as an analytical alternative to race. The article also examines specific copies of the two titles found in South African libraries and uses the different patterns of marginalia as a way of tracing the individual impacts of the two texts.
E. P. Thompson and the “New Labor History” in the United States
James R. Barrett
For both political and historiographical reasons, E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class had a great impact on the new radical US history at its moment of gestation. Thompson's Socialist Humanism appealed to younger radical historians seeking to break with both Cold War liberalism and a highly structuralist form of Marxism. His looser conception of class and his emphasis on culture shaped a new more flexible conception of class formation. Yet Thompson's interrogation of class analysis, and the racial and ethnic complexity of the process in the United States, encouraged an emphasis on “unmaking” in the American context. If we have deconstructed and greatly complicated the notions of class and class formation, this process started not with postmodern theory but rather with The Making. The experience of class, which resides at the center of the book, also draws our attention to the emotional dimension of class.
E. P. Thompson, C. L. R. James, and the Afterlives of Internationalism
In 1983, H. O. Nazareth directed a film called Talking History, which brought together E. P. Thompson and C. L. R. James in conversation. The soundtrack was composed by Spartacus R, former bassist for the Black Rock band, Osibisa. Over the twenty years since the publication of The Making of the English Working Class in 1963, Thompson had confronted several questions around colonialism, law, and constitutionalism that had not found emphasis in The Making. Talking History marks a unique point in the trajectory of Thompson's engagement with some of those questions, while simultaneously revealing the limits of that engagement. In addition to being a useful window into the political worldview of James and Thompson in the early 1980s, the film is also demonstrative of the afterlives of internationalism in the twentieth century. This article argues that revisiting internationalism, as a practice of political activism and critical dialogue, with its possibilities and limits, allows us to carefully rethink some of our contemporary political and intellectual practices.
E. P. Thompson's time-sense at the edges of Rio de Janeiro
Kathleen M. Millar
This article puts E. P. Thompson's writings on time-sense in conversation with the temporality of work on a garbage dump in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At this site, several thousand urban poor (catadores) collect recyclables for a living outside relations of wage labor. The lived experience of “woven time” on the dump, which combines labor with other activities of the everyday, has fashioned what these workers call “a different rhythm of life.” Diverging from other temporalities of neoliberal capitalism, such as “ruptured time,” woven time emerges as an important dimension of a life well lived, as conceived by catadores. Attention to the micro-temporalities of wageless work reveals how precarious forms of labor in contemporary capitalism constitute processes of subject making that both parallel and diverge from the transition to wage labor that Thompson describes in his social history of capitalism.
The making of race and class in Brazil and the United States
Sean T. Mitchell
The extensive literature critiquing the weakness of cross-class Afro-Brazilian solidarity is perhaps equaled in size by the structurally similar literature on the weakness of cross-race working-class solidarity in the United States. For many critics, marginalized or exploited people in Brazil and the United States do not have the political consciousness they ought to have, given apparently objective conditions. What if we started, instead, from E. P. Thompson's insight that class is a “cultural as much as an economic formation,” that it is “a relationship and not a thing,” acknowledging that political consciousness is the partially contingent result of culturally specific struggles and utopias, as much as of determinate historical conditions? Drawing on ethnographic research on conflicts between Afro-Brazilian villagers and Brazil's spaceport, supplemented by comparative data on the mobilization around inequalities in Brazil and in the United States, this article sketches a comparative anthropology of political consciousness that attempts to avoid the objectivizing pitfalls of the genre.
The making and unmaking of a rural moral economy
This paper draws on the work of E. P. Thompson to understand anticapitalist resistance in northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. Through an analysis of the back-to-the-land movement in a region I call “Claytown,” I show how the making of a rural moral economy was in part enabled by the presence of a nascent marijuana industry. However, whereas a relatively small-scale marijuana industry helped forge anticapitalist resistance in the 1960s and 1970s, this industry has become a form through which values of capitalist political economy are being instantiated and reasserted. I situate my ethnographic analysis within a broader historical and legal framework to show how a contemporary moral economy is made and increasingly unmade in the context of late capitalism.
Revolution, Weaponized Nature, and the Making of Campesino Consciousness
Christopher R. Boyer
Mexican villagers endured three decades of dispossession during the late nineteenth-century dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1880, 1884–1911). The transfer of most lands held by communities known as pueblos led many rural people to join the Mexican revolution of 1910–1917, and it helped to structure the postrevolutionary politics. Using E. P. Thompson's concept of “community,” this article suggests that villagers' sense of solidarity formed by their shared lives within the pueblos, and leavened by collective experiences during the Díaz dictatorship and revolution, helped them to forge a new identity as campesinos with an inherent right to land reform during the postrevolutionary era. A core component of campesino identity was opposition to hacienda owners. This opposition set up a struggle over land during the 1920s and 1930s that led some landowners to “weaponize nature” by destroying natural resources such as forests rather than turning it over to villagers through the land reform.
Reading twenty-first-century capitalism through the lens of E. P. Thompson
Kathleen M. Millar
E. P. Thompson's social history of capitalism has enduring relevance for anthropological analyses of economic crisis, precarious labor, and class struggle today. This introduction provides a synthesis of the ethnographic cases in this theme section by reflecting on several impulses in Thompson's work that both resonate with and challenge current ethnography of political and economic change. Thompson's focus on moments of transition, his conception of human subjectivity as a process of “making,” and his view of class struggle as arising from tensions between old and new orders bring history and political economy into the study of emergent social formations. Inspired by Thompson's critique of rigid theoretical models, this introduction suggests ways not only to adopt but also to modify the historian's insights for ethnographic work on contemporary capitalism.