'In Order Not To Fall Into Poverty': Production and Reproduction in the Transition from Proto-industry to Factory Industry in Borne and Wierden (the Netherlands), 1800-1900.
Between 1972 and 1982, Mendels, Kriedte, Medick and Schlumbohm blended a theory which describes the conditional structures that allowed domestic industries to take off as a first phase of the industrialization process. Although most historians have been hesitant in accepting proto-industrialization, as the theory is called, as a valid description of historical reality, still many are attracted to it. To some extent, this has to do with the clarity in which the theory has been presented and the simple logic of the causal mechanisms on which it is based. But more important is that in proto-industrialization theory a number of hypotheses has been formulated about the way people reacted demographically to the process of proto-industrialization. Be it the possible gain of income or the loosening of a traditional agricultural heritage system, the theory asserts that 'traditional' Malthusian preventive checks could be circumvented, allowing for higher nuptiality and fertility.
These hypotheses, plus the availability of mass-sources and family reconstitution techniques, have allowed many to try to measure the demographical impact of proto-industrialization. Some researchers found results which are in line with proto-industrial theory, others (most of them, actually) did not. 'In Order Not To Fall Into Poverty' is a report about yet again such a test. Hendrickx starts with a nice compact and critical introduction to proto-industrialization theory and moves from there to a description of the research problems he wants to tackle. The first one has to do with the question whether proto-industrial families stood out demographically compared to those that were not. The second one has to do with the question what happened demographically to families and communities which did, or did not, move towards industrialization.
Hendrickx' analysis is three-dimensional, discerning among occupation, time and region. He has set up his family reconstitution in Twente, a rather remote part of the Netherlands with - at the beginning of the nineteenth century - a fair amount of cottage industry. Separate reconstructions were made for various occupational groups. In order to look for differences between communities, two neighboring communities were selected, Borne and Wierden. Borne did make the change from domestic to factory industry, while in Wierden the domestic cottage industry disappeared gradually in favor of agriculture. Analyses were made for two marriage cohorts, 1831-1840 and 1871-1880.
A separate chapter is devoted to the question of whether nineteenth century Twente, and in particular, Borne and Wierden, is suited for research into the demographic effects of proto-industrialization. Hendrickx elaborates carefully on all possible criticisms, concluding that, yes, Twente was a proto-industrial region in the nineteenth century, and no, the middle of the nineteenth century is not too late a period for research.
In Chapter 3, the results of the analysis are presented. The outcome is extremely disappointing - at least from a proto-industrial perspective. There are no differences in nuptiality and fertility whatsoever between Borne and Wierden, and there are hardly any differences among cottage workers, factory workers and farmers either. There is no reason to believe that there was a specific protoindustrial pattern in nuptiality and fertility. From a historical demographical point of view, proto-industrialization theory can be discarded.
Up to this point, most of what Hendrickx presents is not new. An important new finding is that so many people changed jobs during their lifetime, making it hard to discern among (proto-industrial) cottage weavers, factory workers and farmers. It is a pity that no population registers have been used in the analysis, because they could have shed even more light on occupational shifts. Next to that, the method of family reconstitution is biased towards a sedentary population. This may have caused the effect that the number of occupational shifts is underestimated and, at the end of their career, most people hold a job in agriculture. What distinguishes the book from other reports, is its strong analytic flavor. The first 180 pages can be read as an experiment from a history laboratory. The families of Borne and Wierden are put under a microscope and used as laboratory rabbits. This is not to say that the book is boring to read; on the contrary, it is very well written, be it in a very condensed style.
Hendrickx continues to be a history laboratory scientist well into the first paragraph of Chapter 4, where he puts the question why his laboratory rabbits "did not act in accordance with the rules set out in the model" (p. 183). But from then on, doubt creeps in, and historical irresolution takes over. Was Twente really the right spot for analysis? Was Wierden really a community which went back from proto-industry to agriculture? Weren't there much more other, cultural differences between the communities which may have counteracted differences caused by proto-industry? And, most important, why were there so many people who changed jobs during their lifetime?
All these questions lead unmistakably to the conclusion that, in Twente in the nineteenth century, involvement in domestic industry was necessary for survival to only a minority of the population. For most families, it was a convenient way of supplementing their income, and even more than that: it was a means of securing their independence. It was custom even to factory workers to retain some land of their own. Therefore, proto-industrial pressure towards a change in demographic patterns was only felt by a small minority of the people. To all others, domestic industry, a small piece of land, or sending the children to various factories was a convenient way to prevent a family from falling down into economic misery. Twente was not the typical proto-industrial region it had seemed to be. Other regions, where far more families needed cottage industry for their survival, may very well have experienced the demographic changes that Mendels et al. had predicted.
One could conclude that, because proto-industrialization theory has not been falsified, and the history laboratory has proven to be a failure, the book is a failure as well. But that is not the case. There are not too many history books which follow a strict Popperian course, from the construction of hypotheses to the presentation of results. The theory on which the hypotheses are based may be questionable, and the results may be disappointing, but from a methodological point of view the book can serve as example for many research reports to come.
University of Nijmegen
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1999|
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