Activism and the Everyday: The Practices of Radical Working-Class Politics, 1830-1842

  • Thomas Scriven

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis will re-evaluate the Chartist movement through research into day-to-day practice in four areas: sociability, material networks, gender and political subjectivity. It will demonstrate that Chartism's activism and the everyday lives of its members were indistinct. In the early years of the movement and the years preceding it, activism and political thought engaged with the quotidian to successfully build a movement that was not only relevant to but an integral part of people's everyday lives. This thesis will analyse how this interaction was not limited to Chartist activists politicising everyday grievances, but also how day-to-day practices and relationships contributed to the infrastructure, intellectual culture and political programme of the movement.This thesis will make original contributions to a number of debates. It challenges the dominant view of Chartism as first and foremost a political movement distinct from its social conditions. It will be argued that this dichotomy between the political and the social cannot be sustained, and it will be shown that activists were most successful when they drew from and were part of society. It will criticise the related trend in studies of Chartism and Radicalism to focus on political identity, meaning and forms of communication. It will argue that these topics are valuable, but need to be seen within a wider existential framework and integrated with an approach that sees cultural activity as one part of a range of activities. As such, it will illustrate the ways that cultural practices are bound with social relationships. Following this, it will make the case for practice to be looked at not just in symbolic or ritualistic terms but also in terms of day-to-day activities that were crucial for the development and maintenance of political movements. It will be argued that prosaic, mundane and day-to-day activities are integral aspects of social movements and as such are worthwhile areas of research. Finally, it will add to our understanding of Chartism by providing biographical information on Henry Vincent, an under-researched figure, and the south west and west of England, under-researched regions.This thesis is organised into two parts. The first will follow the work of activists in developing Chartism in the south west of England from the end of the Swing Riots until the Chartist Convention of 1839. Here it will be argued that Chartism relied upon a close and intensive interaction between activists and the communities they were politicising, with the result being that the movement was coloured by the politics, intellectual culture and practices of those communities. The second section will look at how the private lives and social networks of individual activists were integral to their political ideas, rhetoric and capacity to work as activists. Correspondence, documents produced by the state, the radical press and the internal records of the Chartist movement all shed light on the way everyday life and political thought and action merged.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorBertrand Taithe (Supervisor) & Julie-Marie Strange (Supervisor)


  • Labour History
  • Chartism
  • Social and Cultural History

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