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Introduction: The Global E.P. Thompson

  • Gabriel Winant (a1), Andrew Gordon (a1), Sven Beckert (a1) and Rudi Batzell (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This article introduces the present Special Theme on the global reception and appropriation of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963). It aims to interrogate Thompson’s legacy and potential vitality at a moment of renewed social and intellectual upheavals. It emphasizes the need for an interdisciplinary and global reflection on Thompson’s work and impact for understanding how class, nation, and “the people” as subjects of historical inquiry have been repeatedly recast since the 1960s. Examining the course of Thompson’s ideas in Japan and West Germany, South Africa and Argentina, as well as Czechoslovakia and Poland, each of the following five articles in the Special Theme is situated in specific and different locations in the global historiographical matrix. Read as a whole, they show how national historiographies have been products of local processes of state and class formation on the one hand, and transnational transfers of intellectual and historiographical ideas, on the other. They highlight the remarkable ability of Thompsonian social history to inspire new lives in varying national contexts shaped by different formations of race, class, and state.

TRANSLATED ABSTRACTS FRENCH – GERMAN – SPANISH

Gabriel Winant, Andrew Gordon, Sven Beckert, et Rudi Batzell. Introduction: Le E.P. Thompson mondial.

Cet article introduit le Thème spécial actuel sur la réception et l’appropriation mondiales de The Making of the English Working Class d’E.P. Thompson (1963; titre français: La Formation de la classe ouvrière anglaise). Il vise à interroger l’héritage et la vitalité potentielle de Thompson à un moment de boulversements sociaux et intellectuels répétés. Il souligne le besoin d’une réflexion interdisciplinaire et mondiale sur l’œuvre et l’impact de Thompson, afin de comprendre comment la classe, la nation et “les gens” en tant que sujets de recherche historique ont incessamment été revisités depuis les années 1960. Examinant le destin des idées de Thompson au Japon, en Allemagne de l’Ouest, en Afrique du Sud et en Argentine ainsi qu’en Tchécolsovaquie et en Pologne, chacun des cinq articles suivants dans le Thème spécial est placé dans un cadre spécifique différent à l’intérieur de la matrice historiographique mondiale. Lus comme un ensemble, ils montrent comment les historiographies nationales ont été des produits d’une part, de processus locaux de formation d’État et de classe et d’autre part, de transferts transnationaux d’idées intellectuelles et historiographiques. Ils mettent en valeur la remarquable capacité de l’histoire sociale de Thompson d’insuffler de nouvelles vies dans de nouveaux contextes nationaux qui ont été façonnés par diverses formations de race, de classe et d’État.

Traduction: Christine Plard

Gabriel Winant, Andrew Gordon, Sven Beckert und Rudi Batzell, Einführung: Der globale E.P. Thompson.

Der Beitrag leitet den Heftschwerpunkt ein: die globale Rezeption und Aneignung von E.P. Thompsons The Making of the English Working Class (1963; deutscher Titel: Die Entstehung der englischen Arbeiterklasse). Der Beitrag zielt dabei darauf ab, Thompsons Hinterlassenschaft und potenzielle Vitalität in einer Zeit erneuter sozialer und intellektueller Umwälzungen auszuloten. Es bedarf einer interdisziplinären und globalen Reflexion des Werkes und Einflusses von Thompson, um zu verstehen, wie Klasse, Nation und „Volk” als Gegenstände historischer Untersuchung seit den 1960er Jahren wiederholt neu bestimmt worden sind. Indem sie die Karriere von Thompsons Ideen in Japan, Westdeutschland, Südafrika und Argentinien sowie in der Tschechoslowakei und Polen untersuchen, positionieren sich die fünf Beiträge des Themenschwerpunkts an spezifischen, unterschiedlichen Orten innerhalb der globalen historiografischen Matrix. In der Zusammenschau zeigen sie, wie nationale Historiografien das Produkt lokaler Prozesse der Staaten- und Klassenbildung einerseits sowie des transnationalen Transfers intellektueller und historiografischer Ideen andererseits waren und sind. Sie verweisen auf die außergewöhnliche Fähigkeit von Thompson in verschiedenen, durch unterschiedliche Formierungen von „Rasse”, Klasse und Staatlichkeit geprägten nationalen Kontexten die Sozialgeschichte neu zu beleben.

Übersetzung: Max Henninger

Gabriel Winant, Andrew Gordon, Sven Beckert, y Rudi Batzell. Introducción: E.P. Thompson global.

En este artículo se introduce el actual tema especial sobre la recepción y apropiación global de la obra de E.P. Thompson The Making of the English Working Class (1963; título en español: La formación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra). En él se trata de indagar en el legado de Thompson y en su vitalidad potencial en un momento de agitación social e intelectual renovada. Se pone énfasis en la necesidad de una reflexión interdisciplinar y global sobre la obra de Thompson y su repercusión, en aras de comprender cómo la clase, la nación y el “pueblo”, como sujetos de indagación histórica, han sido replanteados de forma constante desde la década de 1960. Examinando el recorrido de las ideas de Thompson en Japón y en Alemania Occidental, en Sudáfrica y en Argentina, así como en Checoslovaquia y en Polonia, cada uno de los cinco textos que forman parte de este tema especial se sitúa en lugares específicos y diferentes en la matriz historiográfica global. Leído como un todo, los artículos muestran cómo las historiografías nacionales han sido, por un lado, resultado de procesos locales de formación de estado y clase y, por otro lado, fruto de las transferencias transnacionales de ideas intelectuales e historiográficas. En los textos se destaca la extraordinaria habilidad de la historia social thompsoniana para inspirar nuevas vidas en diferentes contextos nacionales delineados por diferentes formaciones de raza, clase y estado.

Traducción: Vicent Sanz Rozalén

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E-mail: gabriel.winant@yale.eduagordon@fas.harvard.edubeckert@fas.harvard.edurbatzell@fas.harvard.edu
References
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1 This analysis is derived from Mayer’s Arno J. classic work, The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War, 2nd ed. (London, 2010).

2 On this process writ large, see Hobsbawm’s Eric magnum opus, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991 (New York, 1996), pp. 199400. See also Westad Odd Arne, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge, 2007).

3 For assessment of these debates in anglophone and francophone historiography, see Scott Joan Wallach, Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1999); Eley Geoff and Nield Keith, The Future of Class in History: What’s Left of the Social? (Ann Arbor, MI, 2007).

4 In Germany, the Sonderweg debate gave shape to a question about the meaning of German nationhood. This is an enormous literature, but see the summary in Kocka Jürgen, “German History before Hitler: The Debate about the German Sonderweg”, Journal of Contemporary History, 23 (1998), pp. 316. For a similar summary of Japanese historiography, see Yoshida Takashi, The Making of the “Rape of Nanking”: History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States (New York, 2006). An assessment of the anti-nationalist reaction overall is found in Conrad Sebastian, The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century, trans. Alan Nothnagle (Berkeley, CA, 2010).

5 The classic statement of American consensus school history is Potter David, People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (Chicago, 1954). For a later assessment of the consensus as invented tradition, see Wall Wendy L., Inventing the “American Way”: Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement (New York, 2008). For the Soviet equivalent of consensus historiography, see Dmitriĭ Kallistov Pavlovichet al., History of the USSR in Three Parts, trans. George H. Hanna et al. (Moscow, 1977).

6 The classic text here is, of course, Anderson Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1983).

7 Dudziak Mary L., Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, 2006).

8 Drawn from the conference, a set of articles that aimed to extend, re-apply, and develop key Thompsonian concepts has already appeared in the Journal of Social History. Furchtgott Lisa, “Tents Amid the Fragments: The Law at Greenham Common”, Journal of Social History, 48 (2015), pp. 789802; Clark Gabrielle, “‘Humbug’ or ‘Human Good?’: E.P. Thompson, the Rule of Law and Coercive Labor Relations Under Neoliberal American Capitalism”, Journal of Social History, 48 (2015), pp. 759788; Potamianos Nikos, “Moral Economy? Popular Demands and State Intervention in the Struggle over Anti-Profiteering Laws in Greece 1914–1925”, Journal of Social History, 48 (2015), pp. 803815; Parthasarathy D., “The Poverty of (Marxist) Theory: Peasant Classes, Provincial Capital, and the Critique of Globalization in India”, Journal of Social History, 48 (2015), pp. 816841.

9 In a recent study of global historiography, Thompson and Hobsbawm, as well as Maurice Dobb, Christopher Hill, George Rudé, and Dorothy Thompson, as participants in the Communist Party Historians Group are credited with “the most innovative reconstitution of Marxism” and Thompson’s Making is deemed the “most important turning point in the new Marxist approach”. Iggers Georg G., Wang Q. Edward, and Mukherjee Supriya, A Global History of Modern Historiography (New York, 2013), pp. 268269.

10 A recent exploration of the nascent field of global intellectual history underscores these partial, highly politicized appropriations in a variety of contexts. Moyn Samuel and Sartori Andrew, Global Intellectual History (New York, 2013).

11 The very immediate reception of Thompson can be seen in Gutman Herbert G., “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement: The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age”, The American Historical Review, 72 (1966), pp. 74101. This set the agenda for much work over the next two decades, with Gutman remaining a central figure. Gutman Herbert G., Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working-Class and Social History (New York, 1977). The work of one of the authors of this introduction came out of an early encounter with Thompson’s The Making while in graduate school: Gordon Andrew, The Evolution of Labor Relations in Japan: Heavy Industry, 1853–1955 (Cambridge, MA, 1985).

12 Scott James C., Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT, 1990).

13 To be sure, one important contribution to our symposium addressed this issue head on; cf. the aforementioned article: Furchtgott, “Tents Amid the Fragments”. Of course, earlier work has also pointed to this rupture; see for instance: Scott, Gender and the Politics of History; Rowbotham Sheila, Segal Lynne, and Wainwright Hilary, Beyond the Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism, 3rd ed. (London, 2013).

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International Review of Social History
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