Call for papers: The Making of the English Working Class at Fifty: Space, Agency and History From Below

Convenors: David Featherstone, Neil Gray and Paul Griffin, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow.

Sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group and the Political Geography Research Group.

For the RGS-IBG Conference 2013.

50 years on from its original publication E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class continues to inspire and to provoke critical debate and reflection. A foundational text of what has come to be known as ‘history from below’, the book has impacted on contexts far beyond the West-Riding of Yorkshire or the back rooms of London pubs that were the key sites of the book. It has been a pivotal text, even if primarily through critical dialogue, within intellectual traditions as diverse as History Workshop in South Africa and Subaltern Studies.

The Making has, of course, been subject to numerous critiques and engagements notably by feminist and post-colonial critics (Clark, 1995, Hall, 1992). The cultural nationalism that informed Thompson’s work have been robustly contested by Paul Gilroy (1987, 1993). Forms of Thompsonian inspired social history have been productively taken in more transnational dimensions by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. In geography its reception was subject to significant debate, especially in relation to Derek Gregory’s critique of Thompson’s account of the relations between class and space. Engagement with Thompson’s work, however, has been oddly absent from recent debates on workers’ agency in labour geography. His commitment to asserting and recovering diverse forms of agency in shaping class formation, however, resonates with many critical geographical projects.

This session seeks to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Making. It seeks to use this as an opportunity for critical reflections on Thompson’s text and to consider the relations between geographical work and ‘history from below’. The session invites both critical commentaries and empirically informed papers. These might consider:

•     The imaginations of space and place in the Making of English Working Class

•     The transnational impact of the Making of the English Working Class

•     The contested geographies of the new left

•     Critical engagements with Thompson’s use of the terms experience and agency.

•     The political contexts that shaped The Making of the English Working Class

•     The relations between Thompson, Subaltern Histories and attempts to think history from below spatially.

Abstracts of up to 250 words should be sent to Dave Featherstone ( by February 8th.


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