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James Thompson - After the Fall: Class and Political Language in Britain, 1780-1900 | JSTOR: The Historical Journal, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 785-806
The fall of class in nineteenth-century British history has become a familiar tale. Its rise in the historiography of eighteenth-century Britain has been less noted. This essay explores the reasons for this divergence and emphasizes its methodological origins. It highlights the need for a comprehensive history of class society and identity to replace the confused and contradictory picture of particular classes and communities that is currently on offer. To understand better the constitution of class society, it urges historians to talk less of consciousness and more of identity and to recognize that class is an imagined community much like any other. It proceeds to use this understanding of class identity to assess the turn to political language amongst social historians interested in class. The paper offers a sustained examination of the recent work of Joyce and Wahrman in particular and argues that insufficient attention has been paid to the variety of usable political languages and to the particular discursive contexts in which they are employed. It is argued that to acknowledge that class is so constructed is not to deny its existence or its importance and that historians need to look beyond political discourse to explain how class became so central to the self and the social in the nineteenth century. -- extensive references on British social history as well as postmodern historiography debates -- downloaded pdf to Note
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