Sunday, March 20, 2011

Social Control in Nineteenth Century Britain

ed. by A. P. Donajgrodzki.  London: Croom Helm, 1977
    ‘Social Police’ and the Bureaucratic Elite: A Vision of Order in the Age of Reform (pp. 51-76).

This book is a collection of essays concerned with the application of the concept of social control (borrowed from sociology) to the study of relationships between the classes in nineteenth century Britain.  Although the contributors have different perspectives on social control, all share a fundamental assumption that social order is not only maintained through legal systems (police and prison) but is also expressed through a wide variety of social institutions, both formal and informal.  The book purports to be the first collection of historical essays to make use of this concept.

The essay under consideration here, written by Donajgrodzki, is concerned with examining the common foundations in the thought of Hugh Tremenheere, a traditionalist, and Edwin Chadwick, a Benthamite (in fact he was Bentham’s amanuensis and a devoted adherent).  Both men, he claims, approached the problems of social control from the perspective of social police.  This perspective was characterized by the belief that it was a common morality that produced social order, so that any policy aimed at maintaining it would have to take into consideration not just the legal systems, but also religion, morality, education, leisure activities and even housing and public health.  It further held that if left to themselves, the poor were liable to be led astray, that is they were normless.  They are, perhaps, like a errant children, who do not know any better and must be guided in their moral development as well as in the everyday acts of life.

Donajgrodzki believes that the notion of social police may be an adaptation and intensification of pre-industrial beliefs about the proper relationship between the classes and the control of the poor.  In some parts of the country civil authority was matched by ecclesiastical authority, and this permitted extensive scrutiny of the lives and behavior of the poor and the possibility of social control through the power and influence of the clergy.  With industrialization the poor often gained some measure of economic independence, but this independence was not seen to carry over into a right for individualism, which was seen as incompatible with social order.  Industrialization tended to intensify the feeling that the poor need to be guided and taught, and led to speculations about how this could best be achieved.

Hugh Seymour Tremenheere, the first mines inspector, was a traditionalist whose duties included both reporting on the technical aspects of mining and also on the state of the people in the mining districts.  He felt that the way to maintain social order was to create a controlling and sustaining environment in which all factors, even the most trivial, were carefully considered.  His was a theory of reciprocal obligation, employers had a moral obligation to their employees, and the interests of both were the same.  He did not fear the intellectual and moral development of the poor and felt that it would contribute to social stability, because once they had been properly educated the poor would understand the nature of the proper relationship between themselves and the rich.  Industry would thus play the leading role in creating the proper environment for the working poor, with the state merely ensuring that the socially destructive practices of industry was curtailed.  The state should also contribute to the social welfare of the people by increasing the numbers of schools and staffing them with appropriate role models.  He also wanted an increase in the number of clergy, seeing them as front line enforcers of proper social behavior.

Whereas Tremenheere approached the problem of social control from a paternalistic perspective, Chadwick approached it from a Benthamite one.  They both saw order as being the product of a variety of social processes and thought that it was attainable only if the poor were watched over and guided.  But Chadwick believed that harsher and more coercive measures of enforcement were as important as the benevolent provision of the proper environment.  And unlike Tremenheere he felt that the state should take a much more active role in creating a systematic, humane and efficient social police.  The role of the police was to include not just the apprehension of criminals but also the supervision of public leisure and the enforcement of public health measures.  To offset their role as enforcers, police should also take on humanitarian and benevolent roles in a community, such as acting as fireman.  He felt that Tremenheere placed too much emphasis on the role of the church and that he was not hard enough on the trade unions, whom Chadwick saw as a disruptive force.  While he is often remembered for his advocation of state intervention, he was also enthusiastic about a paternalistic role for the industries for many of the same reasons that Tremenheere was.

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