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Soziale Traditionen in Zeiten des Wandels. Arbeiter und Handwerker im 19 Jahrhundert.

Historians are still seeking a compelling conceptualization of social change in the lives of manual producers in nineteenth-century Europe. More and more scholars have rejected older models that reduced economic and social reality in that century to a transition from an intact "traditional" society to a "modern" industrial society by 1914. But we are still searching for the elements of a new persuasive synthesis.

The Austrian historian Josef Ehmer has been a pioneer in these efforts. In his books and articles over the past twenty years he has applied imaginative and thoughtful research strategies to produce path-breaking studies of artisans and factory workers in Central Europe, especially Vienna. His new volume of essays - most previously published - brings together the main lines of his thinking.

Ehmer does not focus on labor relations or standard of living but rather on the life patterns (Lebensformen) of artisans and workers. Relying heavily on manuscript census records for Vienna and other cities and also published statistics, he investigates patterns of geographical and occupational mobility from youth to old age, living arrangements, marriage patterns, and the relationship between these experiences and involvement in trade unions and political organizations.

As always, in this volume Ehmer makes his arguments with crystal clarity. The overarching thesis is that the patterns of life of artisans and workers right down to the late nineteenth century were forged not only by new economic dynamics but also by pre-industrial social forms that people used, adapted, and even strengthened in order to try to organize their lives. Ehmer does not view those traditional forms simply as remnants of the past that retained a hold on people's minds but rather as practical means which men and women found appropriate to interpret and negotiate the world in which they lived, thus producing ever-shifting syntheses and ambivalencies.

Fundamental to Ehmer's interpretation is the fact that the commercialization and growth of production in the nineteenth century created an enormous increase in the number of small enterprises in the artisan trades, especially in "mass trades" like cabinetmaking, shoemaking, and tailoring. This was most pronounced in the decades between the 1830's and the 1870's, particularly in established cities like Vienna and Berlin. In 1869 over half of the "workers" in Vienna were still journeymen and apprentices in small shops. Only in the 1880's did large enterprises begin to crowd out small ones.

This had several major implications, which Ehmer pursues in individual essays. First, the large numbers of artisan journeymen and apprentices in the cities were fed by massive migrations of single young men, who increasingly came from rural areas at middling distances from the cities. Ehmer shows, in a fine, detailed comparative study of Zurich, Vienna, and Zagreb, that a majority of masters and about three-quarters of all journeymen and apprentices were immigrants. Following the patterns established in the Old Regime, except in the building and textile trades, over eighty percent of the journeymen were single in the middle of the nineteenth century. About three-fourths did not have their own households: about half lived with their masters, and a fifth rented rooms or beds in other households. By contrast, only fifteen percent of the men in other categories of "workers" lived with their employers, while about forty percent had their own households and another forty percent rented rooms or beds.

But one of Ehmer's most striking conclusions, based on an analysis of the German Empire's occupational censuses from 1882 to 1907, is that within the life-spans of journeymen, this pattern was only temporary, limited to their younger years. After the age of thirty, in most trades, the majority eventually either became independent (at least nominally) or left their trade; also, surprisingly, among men in their forties and fifties, a substantial number turned or returned to agriculture.

All of this meant that, well into the nineteenth century, most journeymen did not spend their whole lives as wage-earners. Ehmer's investigation of family structure points in the same direction. He combines scholarship in England and the U.S. with his own detailed research on Vienna to point out that, although there was a long-term trend from the proto-industrial nuclear family to the working-class nuclear family, in Vienna this was not a linear development; it was actually reversed in the middle decades of the nineteenth century by the growth of small artisan enterprise, with its many single journeymen who lived with their masters. And even the spread of the working-class nuclear family at the end of the century involved new differentiations: whereas unskilled workers had less of a tendency to marry and did so at a later age, skilled workers married in greater numbers and did so at a younger age, and it was they who began to develop the model of the "respectable working-class family." Amidst his studies of journeymen's and workers' families, Ehmer includes a fascinating essay comparing family and economy in the upper middle class of merchants and manufacturers and the lower middle class of independent artisan masters. Here he shows that the lower middle class tended to perpetuate the traditional artisan household, which included members of only the nuclear family plus unrelated journeymen and apprentices, while the upper middle class household often contained an extended family, members of which were involved in the family business, while mere employees of the business were excluded.

In all of these studies Ehmer makes a persuasive case that, among artisans, the expansion of small-enterprise production until the 1870's fostered the simultaneous perpetuation and adaptation of "traditional" patterns of migration, marriage, household structure, and life-cycle occupational shifts. In the last essays in the volume he explores relationships between these trends and the emergence of an organized labor movement in Vienna around 1867-1873. Again, he rejects simple interpretations, such as the fiat claim that artisans created the labor movement. He sees two different categories of workers in the organizational activity of these years: The skilled factory workers, who tended to lead "stable" existences - they tended to be married, have their own households, and have steady jobs - were more inclined to work patiently through political organizations to pursue moderate goals. The journeymen in small enterprises tended to lead "unstable" existences - they tended to be young, single immigrants, who lived either with their masters in an "ambivalent" relationship or as rootless roomers, and who changed jobs frequently; consequently, although they were more attracted to trade unions than were factory workers, their participation fluctuated drastically, and they were more prone to spontaneous outbursts of radical protest and even violence.

This summary of the broad outlines of Ehmer's interpretation cannot do justice to the careful differentiations he makes between trades, localities, and generations. This is an exceptionally rich and nuanced body of scholarship.

Ehmer's interpretation brings us a long way toward integrating artisans into the economic and social dynamics of the nineteenth century, instead of treating them as remnants of the past or as people who adapted to the present only by changing their whole character. The work in this book is fundamental.

Frederick Marquardt Syracuse University
COPYRIGHT 1997 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Marquardt, Frederick
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
Words:1168
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