E.P Thompson's The making of the English Working Class
From looking at The making of the English Working Class it seems quite obvious that E.P Thompson’s main arguments throughout his book are about the notion of ‘class’, in particular the ‘making of the working class’ ; and in order to evaluate his theories we must attempt to look at other historians opinions about his book, and his suggested theories, in order to come to an impartial evaluation.
Many historians have their own interpretations when trying to define class, like Bourke who links class to characteristics such as accent, clothing; Marx who states that class was ‘no more or less than an objective social category’; and E.P.Thompson’s definition, that class happens ‘as a result of class conscious experience.’ Therefore it is quite clear that class is a contested concept as there is no exact definition, thus making it more difficult for historians to come to a conclusion with evidence to prove it.
The Making of the English Working Class is according to Kaye and McClelland, ‘the obligatory starting point for any contemporary discussion of the history of the working-class formation.’ This gives us the indication that Thompson had not just written another piece on the concepts of class but that his book ‘opened interpretive eyes to a new way of seeing class.’
In his book Thompson’s main purpose was to write adjacent to the grain of economic history by implying that ‘the working class did not rise like the sun at the appointed time. It was present in its own making.’ In this we can see how Thompson seems to envoke the working class experience in a vivid way, which is arguably one of the reasons why his book received such appraise.
However his book also received much criticism, as Kaye and McClelland point that his ‘own theory of how class formation is determined remains highly ambiguous.’ This suggests that perhaps Thompson did not go into specific detail on how class was formed and when, which remains a highly debated topic. The fact that Thompson argues ‘thus the working- class presence was, in 1832, the most significant factor in British political life’, is argued by the Marxist historian Anderson, that class was not specifically made in the 1830’s due to its decline, but was perhaps made in the 1880’s. The fact that he insinuates that the English working class was not ‘made’ by the 1830’s suggests that Thompson was ‘too voluntarist and subjectivist’ in his approach to explain the origins of working class consciousness.
However, it is argued by Palmer that ‘the platonic models of Anderson-Nairn thesis tidied up all the messiness of class struggles in a kind of tunnel vision that could scope only in the linear sightings of one-dimensional boundaries of hegemony,’ suggesting that Anderson had put all the essential struggles that the working class experienced. However Thompson was not just focusing on this, but the aspect of ‘the extent to which, even in defeat, the...