Sunday, 8 March 2015

David Mead's inaugural lecture on protest studies

Following on from my last post, I've just read David Mead's transcript of his inaugural lecture at UEA,
Read it all here:

It's a whirlwind tour around all aspects of law relating to protest, and also historical precedents. It thinks along many of the same lines as I do, not least about the deliberate ambiguities of private open spaces and their policing. Indeed, Anna Minton's book gets many mentions (as it does in the intro to my new book) that (to follow on a theme from a recent post of mine) it is becoming canonical, though there have been many equally perceptive studies of the privatisation of public space by American scholars.

David was generous to give me a small mention, and then tweet at me that he'd done so. He tweets at @SeethingMead
He came to one of the protest history workshops that I helped organise a few years ago, and was invaluable for helping us think about protest and its suppression within the frameworks of law and the courtroom.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Manchester Library Walk and public space

So as @SaveLibraryWalk have announced today, the Public Inquiry into the Stopping Up order for Library Walk in Manchester have concluded that the development on the site is here to stay. The city council have erected glass 'gates' or doors at either end, to be closed at night, for the reason of preventing crime (though I expect within a few years the council will propose putting more 'commercial opportunities' in it).

How many times have I walked along that sweeping corridor between the town hall extension and the central library on my way to the archives and local studies?

The decision has so many parallels and ironies with the history of Manchester I don't have room to list them here. Manchester liberal reformers, many of whom were veterans of Peterloo - which happened on the very site of the library walk - set up one of the first ever associations against the stopping up of footpaths in the mid 1820s. The freedom to move and to meet was an integral right defended by campaigners for the vote.

The language then and now is the same - the 'stopping up' of footpaths and public rights of way was opposed as part of wider concern about the effects of enclosure on the freedom to move and meet in public spaces. Enclosure wasn't just about landlords privatising common agricultural land; it also involved councils and other authorities stopping up rights of way as urbanisation proceded apace.

I've deliberately referenced the Library Walk campaign in the preface to my new book, in relation to the parallels with the privatisation of public space in early nineteenth-century Britain, and do so alongside references to Anna Minton's study of 'malls without walls' and similar examples of the prevailing tendency for planners and commercial developments to exclude any 'undesirables' from previously public spaces. The proposed 'garden bridge' across the Thames (which I've blogged about earlier) is another case in point.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches

Just a quick thought about Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (Rivers Oram, 1995).

Every time I try to write something about the role of women in popular politics in the early nineteenth century, I ask myself, 'What did Clark write about this woman/year/event?' I pick up Clark's book from my shelf, look in the index, then in the relevant chapters 8 to 10, and inevitably find very little about what I'm looking for.

The book is in fact not about radical women at all. Certainly for the period 1816-20, there are very few radical women in it. I was trying to look up Jemima Bamford - she's not in the index, and Samuel her husband, the more famous radical leader who wrote reams about his relationship with her in his Passages in the Life of a Radical (1849) is only mentioned once. We don't hear the voices of the female radical societies that proliferated in 1819 nor do we read their many addresses published in the newspapers in the lead up to Peterloo. The chapters on 1816-20 are surprisingly thin. For Jemima, I had to go to Paul Custer's article, Refiguring Jemima, in Past and Present (2007), and also the work of Michael Bush on the women of Peterloo.

Clark's book is much more about attitudes to and representations of political women in this period, and many more of the chapters are about gender relations in family and work. Separate spheres basically, as would be expected for a book published in the 1990s.

So why do I have this Pavlovian reaction about Clark's book when referencing works on popular politics and gender? 

I think it is because the book has become canonical in citations about female political history because of what the book represents rather than what it actually contains.

As the title suggests, it was designed as a counter-part if not a counter-blast to E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, which was criticised for its lack of attention to gender issues in politics. So that's what it is - a synecdoche for all books representing a challenge to a traditional male labour or political history. So I still have to cite it, even though it's not actually that useful for learning more about what the actual women of 1816-20 thought or did themselves....