Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Proletarian Politics Today: On the Perils and Possibilities of Historical Analogy

  • James Ferguson (a1)

Abstract

When contemporary dispossessed urban classes are figured as a “proletariat,” a potent historical analogy is activated in which the well-documented experience of the burgeoning industrial working classes of nineteenth-century Europe provides an implicit template for interpreting events and processes far removed in time and space. Yet Karl Marx's own deployment of the figure of the proletariat, which often provides the inspiration and model for such analogic moves, was itself in its own time already a complex historical analogy, invoking the social hierarchies of ancient Rome. Rethinking this doubly analogical intellectual history provides an occasion both for considering the uses and abuses of historical analogy, and for using a reflection on the original (Roman) proletarians as a conceptual lever for prying apart some outdated assumptions about the contemporary politics of certain propertyless urban populations, in southern Africa and beyond.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Proletarian Politics Today: On the Perils and Possibilities of Historical Analogy
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Proletarian Politics Today: On the Perils and Possibilities of Historical Analogy
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Proletarian Politics Today: On the Perils and Possibilities of Historical Analogy
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited

Corresponding author

References

Hide All
Alfoldy, Geza. 1985. The Social History of Rome. London: Croon Helm.
Atkins, Margaret and Osborne, Robin, eds. 2006. Poverty in the Roman World. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bairoch, Paul. 1988. Cities and Economic Development: From the Dawn of History to the Present. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Beard, Mary. 2015. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing.
Brown, Peter. 2012. Through the Eye of the Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Chatterjee, Partha. 2006. The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press.
Denning, Michael. 2010. Wageless Life. New Left Review 66: 7997.
Fallers, L. A., 1961. Are African Cultivators to Be Called “Peasants”? Current Anthropology 2, 2: 108–10.
Ferguson, James. 1999. Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ferguson, James. 2015. Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Forment, Carlos A. 2015. Emergent Forms of Plebeian Citizenship: Everyday Ethical Practices in Buenos Aires's La Salada's Market. Current Anthropology 56 (supp. 11): S115S125.
Gibson-Graham, J. K. 1996. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gluckman, Max. 1961. Anthropological Problems Arising from the African Industrial Revolution. In Southall, A., ed., Social Change in Modern Africa. London: Oxford University Press.
Goody, Jack. 1963. Feudalism in Africa? Journal of African History 4, 1: 118.
Grant, Michael. 1992. A Social History of Greece and Rome. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Hammond, John Lawrence and Hammond, Barbara Bradby. 1917. The Town Labourer, 1760–1832: The New Civilization. London: Longmans, Green.
Hammond, John Lawrence and Hammond, Barbara Bradby. 1920. The Village Labourer, 1760–1832: A Study in the Government of England before the Reform Bill. London: Longmans, Green.
Hannerz, Ulf. 1992. Cultural Complexity: Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press.
Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio. 2000. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Hobsbawm, Eric. 1965. Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries. New York: W. W. Norton.
Jacobs, Ricardo. 2017. An Urban Proletariat with Peasant Characteristics: Land Occupations and Livestock Raising in South Africa. Journal of Peasant Studies. DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2017.1312354.
Knapp, Robert. 2011. Invisible Romans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Lefebvre, Henri. 2003. The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
MacMullen, Ramsay. 1974. Roman Social Relations, 50 B.C. to A.D. 284. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Marx, Karl. 1978. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.
Morley, Neville. 2006. The Poor in the City of Rome. In Atkins, Margaret and Osborne, Robin, eds. Poverty in the Roman World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2139.
Parkin, Tim G. and Pomeroy, Arthur J.. 2007. Roman Social History: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.
Ranger, T. O. 1985. The Invention of Tribalism in Zimbabwe. Gweru, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press.
Shelton, Jo-Ann. 1988. As the Romans Did: A Source Book in Roman Social History. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sjoberg, Gideon. 1965. The Preindustrial City: Past and Present. New York: Free Press.
Stallybrass, Peter. 1990. Marx and Heterogeneity: Thinking the Lumpenproletariat. Representations 31: 6995.
Therborn, Göran. 2012. Class in the 21st Century. New Left Review 78: 529.
Veyne, Paul. 1990. Bread and Circuses: Historical Sociology and Political Pluralism. New York: Viking.
Weber, Max. 1969. The Nature of the City. In Sennett, Richard, ed., Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2346.
Žižek, Slavoj. 2012. Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. New York: Verso.

Keywords

Proletarian Politics Today: On the Perils and Possibilities of Historical Analogy

  • James Ferguson (a1)

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.