chapter  Three
48 Pages

Class and the ‘linguistic turn’ in Chartist and post-Chartist historiography

ByNeville Kirk

This chapter considers the strengths and weaknesses of their ‘populist’ perspectives in relation to Chartist and post-Chartist languages. It suggests that the continued utility and fruitfulness of a materialist framework of historical analysis which explores the dialectic between, on the one hand, consciousness and agency and on the other, conditioning and structure. The Chartist reality, and the driving force of the movement and its constituents’ identities become politics and political languages. The Chartist leaders did identify ‘exceptions’, such as John Fielden, to the charge of capitalist oppression, and did often express the hope that employers would come to see the folly of their ways and treat workers in time-honoured ‘honourable’ fashion. Peter Murray McDouall’s picture of the factory master as an uncaring and hypocritical utilitarian was shared by many other Chartists. ‘Linguistic determinism’ proves, after all, to be the most appropriate critical description of the ‘linguistic turn’.