Concluding Reflections on Part One
Part One of this study has not attempted to decide which of two forces, culture or material circumstances, was the more powerful. Analysts who conceive of these forces as variables to be laid out side by side might suppose that their effects were conjoined, but their admixture is in fact more fundamental than that. Not only were both prerequisites for the composition of production, but the very operation of each remains inconceivable without the other. Material constraints assume their social effectivity only as they are encoded by culture; culture operates only as it is materialized in the concrete media at hand. The two forces are different moments in the same social process. Nonetheless, we can still isolate the effects of culture if we ask, not which had the most influence, but which comprised a social logic. The brute conditions of praxis in capitalist society, such as the need to compete in a market, did not provide the principles for organizing practices in forms that were stable and reproducible, for by themselves they did not supply a meaningful design for conduct. Rather, practices were given a consistent shape by the particular specifications of labor as a commodity that depended, to be sure, upon the general conditions of praxis for their materials, but granted them social consequences according to an intelligible logic of their own.
The discovery that factory production in Germany and Britain was orchestrated according to its signifying function bears important implications for sociological theories about the distinguishing character of human action in the capitalist order. Many in the tradition of Western Marxism have viewed the increasing salience of exclusively calculative, instrumental conduct as a characteristic developmental tendency of capitalist society. But looking at the sensuous realm of practice on the shop floor from a comparative perspective discloses a more complex process. One can, perhaps, refer to the "rationalization" of the labor process at the very end of the nineteenth century, when formal ideologies of management appeared and the legal system, at least in Germany, elaborated more explicitly the rules governing the transmission of labor in the factory. But the development of capitalism was not marked by the progressive reduction of the activity of labor to the logic of instrumental action alone, without respect for action's communicative function. Instrumental action, rationalized by progressive adjustments
to end-means logic, was still ordered by its conveyance of meaning and followed the cultural coordinates of a commodity form that varied apart from immediate economic conditions.
If micro-procedures at the site of production were grouped in a meaningful pattern that incarnated different concepts of labor, how did this cultural logic tend to be incorporated consistently into practice? The concept of culture has drawn researchers' attention to the systematicity and global patterning of practices and signs, of strategies and life forms in society. Yet it is too easy to take this patterning as evidence for the influence or presence of something termed culture without asking how culture produces this configuration—or this configuration, culture. No social agent craftily designed the constellation of instrumentalities in the factory to embody, across the board, different specifications of labor as a commodity. By what processes did people create and reproduce not just an accidental assemblage of practices and concepts but an undivided cultural system based on concepts of labor?
To explain the survival of consistencies in the form of practice we need not invoke the notion of an overarching, harmonized normative order, internalized by the agents, that restrains deviant action. Once practices were installed as a consistent ensemble, their very execution could reproduce the concept of labor they embodied. Adherence to an ideal did not descend downward from contemplative knowledge of the general but percolated upward from practical knowledge of the concrete. It was the encounter with ideas residing in these humble instrumentalities that gave producers a practical knowledge of the ideal form by which labor was transferred as a commodity. The micro-practices contained within themselves the principle that structured the social whole; execution of specific practices could reproduce the structure of the whole from the ground up.
The question that remains unanswered is not how a patterned cultural system was maintained, but, simply, why and how do practices cohere to
begin with? The matched comparison of economic environments for British and German factories shows that, in each country, alternative conventions would have met the requirements of the firm in the realm of capitalist competition equally well. If a method for, say, the imposition of fines is installed under one form of labor as a commodity, the choice of form for other techniques is not entailed by practical necessity. What generated the tendency toward consistency of form?
Even if one admits that agents' cultural schemata are arranged into a systematic whole, it by no means follows that the institutions of the factory must themselves incorporate this coherence. Instead, culture could be used by the agents to formulate only a subjective response to practices shaped by external necessities. The built-in requirements of the mind for the production of meaning, which the cultural structuralists present as the ultimate cause of the coherence of culture, may well dictate a kind of formal patterning in language and in conceptual designs. If this holds true for the constitution of language and signification, however, the question—altogether separate—remains of how and why industrial practice in the newly emergent capitalist factory methodically embodied such adroit schemata.
Max Weber's sociological perspective offers an advantage in responding to the riddle of systematicity in factory practices because it views cultural patterning as a contingent accomplishment open to historical investigation. As is well known, Weber identifies intellectual specialists as the historical actors who are responsible for the creation of doctrines that make possible the systematic patterning of culture and of conduct. Yet the details of the
cases at hand disqualify the Weberian approach to the development of a meaningful configuration of micro-practices in the factory. The principle of labor as a commodity did not form part of a formal management doctrine imparted to factory employers. To be sure, general precepts about the mutual responsibilities of the employing and the working classes had wide currency throughout the nineteenth century. But those sanctimonious philosophies about virtuous relations had nothing to say about the organization or execution of manufacturing techniques themselves. "So far as we know," Sidney Pollard concluded for the period of early industrialization in Britain, "the management pioneers were isolated and their ideas without great influence." Since so many factories were family-operated, the technical mysteries of the trade could be passed between generations through firsthand experience in the enterprise. In point of fact, there was as such no formal management doctrine to disseminate during the early development of the factory system. Professional administration of employees did not form an object for sustained reflection and study in either Germany or Britain until approximately the 1880s. Until then the managerial function on the shop floor was not differentiated from that of technical oversight. Accordingly, books on the management of textile mills most often referred to machinery, not people. At least until midcentury, the very term manager in Britain lacked a clear referent. The usual title for a supervisor of employees was clerk , a locution directed toward the older activity of book-
keeping. The crystallization of factory practices based on specifications of labor that varied between Germany and Britain occurred decades before the emergence of management science in either country.
The functioning of the networks of communication in the textile districts also excludes the possibility that similarities in practices across regions arose from the diffusion of formal doctrine about the efficient deployment of labor among machines. Although factory procedures in Yorkshire and Lancashire were based on similar principles, in the formative years of the factory system factory owners in these provinces did not remain in contact with each other to transmit information about those practices. The language of shop-floor life confirms the independence of development. In each of the neighborhoods of Lancashire and Yorkshire counties, managers used distinct vocabularies for parts of the loom and jobs in the mill. Information about technical innovation—a subject of great concern to mill managers—was slow to diffuse. For example, managers in Elland, just outside Bradford, did not acquire for two decades the attachments for automatically changing the weft color on multi-shuttle looms that were standard in the city of Bradford by the 1870s. How much less likely is it, therefore, that communication at length among factory managers about the interior social life of the mill led to the standardization of procedures within each country for managing the purchase of "labor" in the factory. The patterning of conduct according to the specification of labor as a commodity did not reflect a deliberate systematization of administrative rules.
If the patterning did not result from agents orienting themselves to environment with a certain schema and then creating a world in the image of this schema—the solution of idealists—neither was it the trace of the imperatives of the capitalist system imposing their image on people's consciousness. We cannot derive the cultural pattern from the functional requirements of the economy operating behind people's backs, for the
differing specifications of labor were both equally well suited for the reproduction of capitalism. Moreover, they could have been used together indiscriminately in one setting. The conditions of the capitalist system may have sustained a cultural outlook, but they did not by themselves inaugurate it; conversely, a cultural template lodged in concrete practice may have served as a moment in the reproduction of the capitalist system, but it did not create a capitalist economy.
The execution of practice incorporates a cultural schema, as Bourdieu always reminds us. Yet even in his studies of kin-based societies, Bourdieu did not consider seriously the next issue: whence, not just culture, but a cultural system? If action requires conception, still there is no requirement emanating from the agents themselves that requires diverse practices to follow a single, generalizable idea. The record of anthropological research shows time and again that agents seem to have an inexhaustible capacity for synthesizing contradictory assumptions into a coherent, though perhaps imperfectly consistent, outlook. The systematicity of practices on the shop floor did not reflect some cognitive necessity lodged in the agents themselves that required them to "think" the structure of society or of the factory with a single principle. Such an explanation would reduce culture to a constraint of the contemplative mind, as if agents engaged in practice so as to gaze upon it from without as upon a work of art—and a simple one at that.
In each country, the operative concept of labor had two guises. Within the rude walls of the factory, the producers transmitted "labor" as an imaginative construct of their lifeworld to their employers through their tangible actions and face-to-face social ties; yet, beyond the realm of lived experience, abstract human labor formed the common denominator by which diverse kinds of products with incomparable use values could be brought into relation with each other and exchanged in the market, awakening to life an impersonal world of commodities in motion. The category
of labor did not function as a pivotal concept because it expressed the detached logic of the capitalist system, or, from the other side, because it revealed the supremacy of culture in the producers' negotiation of a meaningful order; instead, it bridged these two realms of a market-integrated social structure and the experienced world. If people monitor and organize their conduct in accordance with the commodity form of labor, they reproduce the networks of exchange and of objectified social relations that constitute capitalist society. Georg Lukács, who insisted on linking the dynamic of the capitalist system to the forms of understanding that people used to constitute their practice and experience, gave this insight a classic formulation long ago. "Objectively, in so far as the commodity form facilitates the equal exchange of qualitatively different objects, it can exist only if that formal equality is in fact recognized—at any rate, in this relation, which indeed confers upon them their commodity character," Lukács wrote. "Subjectively, this formal equality of human labor in the abstract is not only the common factor to which the various commodities are reduced; it also becomes the real principle governing the actual production of commodities."
In capitalist society alone could a concept of labor serve as the organizing principle for a multiplicity of humble practices. Where labor has not been subsumed under the commodity form, it may be recognized as the source of material sustenance but it does not take on the social function of structuring the relation of person to person through the exchange of abstract labor time. Definitions of labor may not surface at all in kinbased or precapitalist societies as a principle for structuring social relations; should they arise, they remain subordinate to other categories coordinating social reproduction. Only in capitalist society is labor both a form of understanding and the integrative principle that regulates social relations in society as a whole; only there does it bridge lived experience and the invisible functioning of a system.
If these considerations render intelligible the patterning of practice by a specification of labor as a commodity, yet they do not explain why the concepts of labor differed between Germany and Britain. To answer this question requires us to uncover the historical genesis of the divergent concepts and the conditions governing their transmission in quotidian practice. That is the task in Part Two of this work.