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Prekare Selbstandigkeit: Zur Standortbestimmung von Handwerk, Hausindustrie und Kleingewerbe im Industrialisierungsprozess.

Prekare Selbstandigkeit: Zur Standortbestimmung von Handwerk, Hausindustrie und Kleingewerbe im Industrialisierungsprozess This excellent volume brings together much of the most recent German research on the evolution of the artisanate and small business and industry during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Germany. Ulrich Wengenroth, in the editor's introduction, frames the essays around a debate between what he calls optimists and pessimists on the fate of artisans in industrialization. The pessimists view artisans and craft production forms as the inevitable victims of industrialization, destined to give way to mechanization, the factory, and mass production. The optimists, on the other hand, view the artisanate and craft production not as victims, but as an integral part of the process of industrialization. One group of optimists, traceable to the writing of Wolfgang Fischer, sees the process of industrialization as creating a dual economy in which the artisans are carried along as primitive suppliers and service providers to growing and more sophisticated large-scale industry. The other optimists, represented by the writings of Michael Piore, Charles Sabel, and Jonathan Zeitlin, see the process of industrialization as a contingent, highly political event that for much of the nineteenth century, in many (though by no means all) regions, appeared to be driven by artisanal and other small-scale forms of industrial-craft organization. Unlike the first set of optimists, who make general claims about the artisanate as a whole and hold unitary conceptions of what the process of industrialization is, the second group of optimists emphasize the variety of possible development experiences within the artisanate and are fascinated by the possibility of different kinds of industrialization, which run along a spectrum from craft to mass production.

All of the essays in this book represent one or the other, or some combination of, the optimistic positions: no one argues that the artisanate was doomed in the face of industrialization. As David Blackbourn writes in his contribution, "in this sense we have all become revisionists" (p. 20). But several authors, notably Blackbourn and Wengenroth, continue to believe, along the lines of Fischer, that there is a single possible kind of capitalist industrialization, characterized by large-scale factory production, and that the artisanate was fundamentally secondary and marginal in that process, even though it found ways to reproduce itself in niches. Blackbourn toes the traditional line most insistently. He pigeonholes the artisanate outside the mainstream of political economic development in the empire with reference to the way that the "needs of a highly developed capitalist system" (p. 20) created dynamics that disadvantaged the artisan at the end of the nineteenth century. Though his article outlines how the artisanate attempted to come to terms with this reality, he fails to elaborate the mechanisms that made this functionalist logic of capitalism work in the Wilhelmine Reich.

Wengenroth's contribution on the diffusion of small electric motors among artisan producers attempts to undermine what he takes to be an important piece of evidence in the newer optimist argument about the viability of craft production forms: the many fin-de-siecle arguments that the electric motor provided the artisanate with a second competitive wind against large-scale industry. He shows that the diffusion of electric motor technology was a byproduct of public utility company efforts to find a market for their production capacity and a stepping-stone on their way toward large-scale provision of service to big industry. The coming of electric power did not save the artisanate; rather, the survival of the artisanate was a derivative of the growth imperatives of large-scale industry. Furthermore, Wengenroth calls into question the idea that the electric motor helped the artisanate at all. Those not threatened by big industry (butchers, bakers, and those in traditional areas of putting-out production, such as the toolmakers in Remscheid) tended to acquire electric motors, whereas those that were threatened by big industry (such as shoemakers) tended to be unable to adopt them. The key variable for Wengenroth is competition with superior large industry, not electric motors. But, in the end, this just pushes the question further down the hall: one finishes this fascinating essay convinced that electric motors were at least as important for the electrical companies as they were for the artisanate, but unsure of what has actually been learned: why were certain sectors of small industry and artisanal production threatened by large industry and others not?

Most of the other essays address precisely these kinds of questions. On the whole, the authors tend to hold positions more sympathetic to the second form of optimistic perspective about artisan persistence. They tend to take an agnostic view about the big picture at the level of the whole German economy and to focus instead on the many different organizational, technological, and political mechanisms that artisans and other small producers developed to reproduce and transform themselves over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Michael Mende's superb essay examines the various ways in which country wheelwrights and smiths succeeded or failed in attempts to adjust to changes in wagon technology and its production (mechanization and motorization) between 1850 and 1960. Mende emphasizes the extreme blurriness of the boundaries between factory production and the artisanate in wagon production and the tremendously erratic process of technological diffusion that itself created possibilities for adaptation in a trade. In his story, artisans were not necessarily disadvantaged by the emergence of new production forms and technologies, for they could apply their skills to new problems that these forms created. There was not a dual economy, just a growing and changing one. In the end, he shows that the traditional wheelwright disappeared (only in the 1950s) because the general diffusion of rubber tires and the wide availability of woodcutting machinery completely closed off further strategies for adjustment. Smiths, on the other hand, survived because of the continued importance of metal in agricultural machinery. Rather than produce new products, smiths increasingly repaired them.

In a similar vein, Rudolf Boch's extensive essay on the relationship between the artisan guilds and the trade union movement shows that there were many different kinds of adjustment strategies and patterns of organizational development in the process of industrialization. He emphasizes four types of transition from guild organization to trade union, ranging from absolute break to complete continuity of the traditions. A nearly total break occurred in the city service trades, such as among tailors and shoemakers, where unions were formed independent of and outside the (often hostile) guilds. On the other side, important continuity existed in the putting-out industrial districts such as Solingen and Remscheid, where guilds transformed themselves into unions for the representation of producer interests against the merchant putting-outers. Boch devotes considerable attention to the continuity pattern; it has frequently been overlooked and its significance underestimated in the traditional literature on trade unions because of an implicit assumption that guilds were reactionary organizations opposed to the unfolding of the market and industrialization.

These essays, and the other four similarly fascinating pieces not mentioned here by Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, Friedrich Lenger, Frieder Schmidt, and Volker Benand-Wagenroth, make an excellent collection on the current state of thinking and research about the transformation of craft production during the industrialization in Germany. The weight of the volume tends to undermine the old pessimistic view of the relationship between industrialization and craft production and also calls into question the dualist thesis. It does not, however, put a coherent model of industrialization in Germany with a robust sense of the place of craft production in its place. One can only hope that the young and talented scholars in this volume move on to do just that.

Gary Herrigel is assistant professor of political science at the college, University of Chicago. He is revising his MIT dissertation, "Industrial Organization and the Politics of Industry: Centralized and Decentralized Production in Germany," for publication. He is also the author of several articles on the politics of industrial adjustment and change in Germany and the United States.
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Author:Herrigel, Gary
Publication:Business History Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1990
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