|Upon the successful completion of the unit, the learner will be able to:
|You have learned about the class system in your school days. Let us recollect what is meant by social class. A social class is a division of a society based on social and economic status. It refers to a group of people with similar levels of wealth, influence, and status. The common types of social classes include the poor or lower class, the working class, the middle class and the rich or upper class. The middle class commonly consists of white-collar workers who have more money than those below them on the “social ladder,” but less than those above them. It refers to a class of people in the middle of a social hierarchy, often defined by occupation, income, education or social status. In this unit, let us discuss the emergence, growth and features of the middle classes in British society during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.|
4.2.1 Tudor Society
In 16th century England, most of the population lived in small villages and made their living from farming. Soon, towns grew larger and became more important. After the establishment of the Tudor monarchy, trade and industry grew rapidly and England became more of a commercial country. Mining of coal, tin, Iron and lead flourished.
Tudor society was divided into four broad social classes. The nobility who owned large amounts of land formed the upper class. Below them were the gentry and rich merchants. They also owned large amounts of land and they were usually educated and had a family coat of arms. Next to the gentry class were yeomen and craftsmen. Yeomen also owned their own land. They could be as wealthy as gentlemen but they worked alongside their men. Yeomen and craftsmen were often able to read and write. The tenant farmers who had their land on lease from the rich formed the next class. There were also wage labourers who were often illiterate and very poor.
During the Tudor and early Stuart periods, there was a great increase in social mobility, with wealth and political influence shifting from the nobility and clergy towards a “middling class” of the gentry, yeomen and burghers. These were the people represented in the House of Commons, and who eventually challenged royal sovereignty. The newly forged hegemony was a product of its industry and trade, and the developments through a restructuring of its society. This metamorphosis from the traditional structure to modern industrial English society was facilitated by the emergence of this new middle class.
4.2.2 Concept of Class
The concept of class is important in the Western societal structure. There has been a long tradition of looking at Western society through the conceptual framework of the class. There is general agreement among social scientists on the characteristics of the principal social classes in modern societies. Sociologists generally posit three classes:
upper class, working (or lower) class, and middle class.
The upper class of any society is distinguished by their elite possession which was largely inherited. This hereditary ownership and the enormous income derived from it confer many advantages on the upper class. They are able to develop a distinctive style of life based on extensive cultural pursuits and leisure activities. They also exert a considerable influence on economic policy and political decisions. Because of these comforts, they were able to procure their children a superior education and economic opportunities that help to perpetuate further family wealth.
The middle classes emerged in Europe as a result of the formation of industrial and urban economies. The term middle class was initially used to describe the newly emerging class of bourgeoisie or industrial class. But later, the term was used for social groups placed in between the industrialist bourgeoisie and the working class. The middle class are the “sandwich” class. They are commonly the white-collar workers who have more money than those below them on the “social ladder,” but less than those above them. It refers to a class of people in the middle of a social hierarchy, often defined by occupation, income, education or social status.
The lower class or working class is typified by poverty, homelessness, and living under miserable social conditions. People of this class do suffer from a lack of medical care, adequate housing and food, decent clothing, safety, and a steady income. They are minimally educated and engage in “manual labour” with little or no prestige.
The class status of a person, in Max Weber’s terminology, is his “market situation” or, in other words, his purchasing power. The class status of a person also determines his “life chances”. Their economic position or “class situation” determines how many of the things considered desirable in their society they can buy.
4.2.3 Emergence of ‘New Middle Class’
A “new middle class” emerged in England in the vast chasm between the idle landed rich and the toiling class. But the question of the true nature and origin of this middle class in terms of social mobility is often murky. Much of the work of social historians operate on the implicit assumption, furthered by contemporary outside observers that the middle class served as a stepping-stone from the lower classes into respectability (Jordan Boyd-Graber, 2006). It can be described that the English middle class could accurately be a conduit for upward mobility from the lower classes.
One of the assumptions about the formation of a new middle class says that it is the result of the industrial revolution. Followed by industrial advancements, the growth in technology and organisation reshaped the existing social structure. A recognizable peasantry continued to exist in Western Europe, but it increasingly had to adapt to new methods. Many peasants began to achieve new levels of education and to adopt innovations such as new crops, better seeds, and fertilisers. They also began to innovate politically, learning to press governments to protect their agricultural interests.
Britain’s Industrial Revolution brought her social class into a different stage and caused the emergence of new classes, such as the middle class. Before the Industrial Revolution, people’s standard of living and working conditions were very simple. Once the revolution started, people changed their workplaces from farms to factories and moved to urban cities in search of new jobs. Machine- made goods replaced ones that had been done by hand. The social classes in Britain also altered, which developed three distinct classes, including the upper class, middle class and working class. The emergence of these three classes followed the growth of industry, which brought more people to an upper stage, as people’s desires rose. The flourishing of industries brought more wealth to the already rich people who started them and enabled many of them to move from the middle class to the upper middle class. In course of time, as their wealth multiplied, they assumed control of the economy and became more powerful than the former upper class. The improvement of education helped people from the lower class also to get new jobs, improve their financial and social standing and move to the middle class.
4.2.4 Industrial Revolution
In history, the industrial revolution refers to the process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to an industry and machine manufacturing economy. This was a period started in the late 18th Century which saw rapid growth in mechanisation, industrial production and changes in social structure. This process began in Britain in the 18th century and spread to other European countries. The term industrial revolution was popularised by the British historian Arnold Toynbee to describe Britain’s economic development from 1760 to 1840. The main features of the Industrial Revolution were technological, socioeconomic, and cultural. The technological changes included:
- The use of new basic materials, chiefly iron and steel
- The use of new energy sources, including both fuels and motive power, such as coal, the steam engine, electricity, petroleum, and the internal-combustion engine
- The invention of new machines, such as the spinning jenny and the power loom that permitted in- creased production with a smaller expenditure of human energy
- A new organisation of work known as the factory system, which entailed the increased division of labour and specialisation of function
- Important developments in transportation and communication, including the steam locomotive, steamship, the automobile, aero- plane, the telegraph, and the radio
- The increasing application of science to industry. These tech- nological changes made possi- ble a tremendously increased use of natural resources and the mass production of manufactured goods.
- These changes were produced or influenced developments in non- industrial spheres, including
- Agricultural improvements that made possible the provision of food for a larger non-agricultural population
- Economic changes that resulted in a wider distribution of wealth, the decline of land as a source of wealth in the face of rising industrial production, and increased international trade
- Political changes reflecting the shift in economic power, as well as new state policies correspond- ing to the needs of an industrialised society
- Sweeping social changes, including the growth of cities, the development of working-class movements, and the emergence of new patterns of authority
- Cultural transformations of a broad order
The social scientists classified the process of the industrial revolution into two stages. The first stage of the Industrial Revolution lasted between 1770 and 1870 and centred on the changes related to steam, water, iron and the shift from agriculture. The second stage of the Industrial Revolution spanned between 1870 and 1914. New technologies based on electricity, the development of transportation based on petrol engines and greater uses of cheap steel were the characteristics at this stage.
Fig 4.2.1 Edmund Cartwright’s power loom
Fig 4.2.2 James Watt’s steam engine
4.2.5 Important Discoveries/Inventions During Industrial Revolution
- Edmund Cartwright’s power loom (1787) enabled mass pro- duction of cloth.
- Steam engine (developed by James Watt in the 1760s) further transformed the cotton industry and later steam trains.
- Smelting iron- A new method of producing iron, developed by Abraham Darby (1678-1717). This new method used coke rather than charcoal and enabled higher production. Iron was used for buildings and railways.
- Steam train – Richard Trevithick invented the first working steam train in 1806. George Stephen- son’s Rocket 1829, was import- ant for convincing people of the potential of steam trains.
- Machine tools – Prior to the industrial revolution, metal was fashioned by hand, which was very labour-intensive. Machine tools, such as cylinder boring tools and the milling machine, enabled the mass production of things like cylinders for steam trains.
- Chemicals, such as sulphuric acid and sodium carbonate were important in many industrial pro- cesses, such as bleaching cloth, and other products, such as soap, and paper.
- Cement – Portland cement was important in new engineering products, such as the Thames tunnel.
- Tarmacked roads – Thomas Telford and John Macadam devel- oped better roads, with firm foundations, drainage and a smooth surface.
- Telegraph Wire – 1837 invented by Samuel Morse
- Bicycle – 1839 – McMillan
4.2.6 Social Impacts of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution set a social change in motion. The rapid urbanisation caused by the industrial revolution resulted in the migration of people to cities. Changes in farming, soaring population growth, and an ever-increasing demand for workers led masses of people to migrate from farms to cities. Almost overnight, small towns around coal or iron mines mushroomed into cities. Other cities grew up around the factories that entrepreneurs built in once-quiet market towns. When farm families moved to the new industrial cities, they became workers in mines or factories. For the millions of workers who crowded into the new factories, however, the industrial age brought poverty and harsh living conditions. It was thought that when the standards of living increased, people at all levels of society would benefit from industrialization. It was the middle class who received all the fruits of industrialization. But the working class suffered and had to endure very difficult working conditions; they remained in unsafe, unsanitary, and over-crowded housing; and faced unrelenting poverty. There was no sewage or sanitation system, so waste and garbage rotting in the streets. Sewage was also dumped into rivers, which created an overwhelming stench and contaminated drinking water. This led to the spread of diseases such as cholera. Although labour unions, or workers’ organisations, were illegal at this time, secret unions did exist among frustrated British workers. They wished to initiate worker reforms, such as increases in pay but had no political power to effect change.
Industrialization brought up a new middle class along with the working class. The new middle class owned and operated the new factories, mines, and railroads, among other industries. They enjoyed a much more comfortable lifestyle than that of the working class. Those who benefited most from the Industrial Revolution were the entrepreneurs who set it in motion. The Industrial Revolution created this new middle class, or bourgeoisie, whose members came from a variety of backgrounds. Some were merchants who invested their growing profits in factories. Others were inventors or skilled artisans who developed new technologies. Some rose from “rags to riches,” a pattern that the age greatly admired. The new middle class were able to lead a lavish life.
Throughout the course of the developments from the 16th to 19th century, the middle classes expanded rapidly. The middle class who moved fast in the social scale had to learn new modes of behaviour and ways of life. This was reflected in the literature of the period, and the social mobility explored. During the Tudor and early Stuart periods, there was a great increase in social mobility, with wealth and political influence shifting from the nobility and clergy towards a “middling class” of the gentry, yeomen and burghers. The centralization of administration and power, royal motivation for overseas trade, the emergence of the merchant and industrial class and the development of capitalism were the factors responsible for the growth of the middle class.
In the middle class, the people with the highest social standing were the professionals that excelled in their occupations, and they included Naval and military officers, clergymen and those who had a higher status in governmental institutions, professors in the universities and the principles of the prominent schools. Most of the middle class resided in the cities. There was also an emerging class in the middle class that has been called the upper middle class. These included large-scale industrialists, manufacturers and bankers who became successful due to the industrial revolution. These people were wealthy enough to send their children to prestigious schools and colleges which enabled their children to marry into the upper class and gradually merge with the upper class.
In the twentieth century, the middle class and the working class were given the right to cast the vote. There was a vital shift from aristocracy to democracy as the economic and political power shifted from the elite to the common man. Again, education also paved a way for the middle class to excel in science and technology as well as commerce to set the foundation of the industrial and financial institutions. But the socio-economic and cultural scenario of Britain underwent drastic changes in the second half of the twentieth century.
Objective Type Questions
|1. Which city became the perceived centre of Western civilization by the middle of the nineteenth century?
2. Name the machine that greatly contributed to the revolution in the textile industry.
3. Who invented the Miner’s Friend which was used to drain mines in 1698?
4. Who invented the steam engine?
5. What is the transformation of industry and the economy in Britain, between the 1780s and the 1850s, called?
6. Whose interests were promoted and protected by the Laissez Faire theory? 7. Who is known as the ‘prophet of free trade’ in England?
8. Who developed Smelting iron, a new method of producing iron?
9. What caused the migration of people to cities in the Tudor society during the 16th and 17th centuries?
10. What was the new middle class that was created as a result of the Industrial Revolution called?
11. To whom did the British parliament extend the right to vote during the industrial revolution?
Answers to Objective Type Questions
2. Flying shuttle
3. Thomas Savery
4. James Watt
5. First industrial revolution 6. Capitalists
7. Adam Smith
8. Abraham Darby
9. Industrial Revolution 10. Bourgeoisie
11. The new middle-class
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