The Explanatory Method
Rather than make an appeal to culture as the sum of beliefs or implicit background assumptions that together comprised "Britishness" or "Germanness," I condensed the relevant differences between culture in Germany and in Britain into a single principle, the specification of the conveyance of labor as a commodity. I handled this feature in two ways: first as a key for identifying meaningful configurations of practices and, second, as a discrete variable whose causes and consequences could be specified. When I treated culture as an intelligible schema that came to life in a complex of practices, I reasoned from the viewpoint of synchrony; when I treated it as a variable, I reasoned from diachrony. These two approaches employed different comparative strategies.
On the synchronic level, I endeavored to show by judicious comparison that the differences between German and British wool mills in the symbolic patterning of manufacturing techniques could not be explained by the tangible conditions of the immediate business environment. In this part of the inquiry I excluded the economic environment as a source of variation between countries. True, factory practices served economic purposes, but the means employed to meet functional demands emerged from the cultural assumptions the agents applied. The German weaving managers' consecration of the "efficiency ratio," for example, served the purpose of measuring the level of production, but it hardly represented a natural or superior adaptation to the conditions of production. To review a second instance, the implementation of "waiting money" in German textiles before 1914 correlated with the workers' distinctive insistence upon payment for the commitment of labor power, rather than conforming to economic features of the German labor market that differed from those in Britain before 1914. The demonstration that culture had a pervasive, but specifiable, influence on industrial technique was complete after the initial, synchronic stage of comparison.
A different set of issues arises and a separate method of analysis must be called into service when one inquires into the historical origins of the German and British cultural systems. Culture does not descend from the clouds. Although the growth of the wool textile industries and the imme-
diate circumstances of production in textiles were parallel in Britain and Germany, the national contexts of economic development in the countries as wholes contrast sharply. The conjunctural differences in the way Germany and Britain negotiated the transition from the feudal-corporate organization of work and exchange to factory manufacture in the era of capitalism enabled the agents to import contrasting definitions of labor's commodity form into the factory. On the diachronic level of analysis, therefore, I included economic institutions as a context for the emergence of cultural differences at the level of the countries as wholes. In identifying the autonomous causal contribution of culture, we are not required to treat culture as an unmoved mover.
But does this entire study then merely lead to the conclusion that the "economy" generated cultural impressions which subsequently assumed a stable life of their own? For the purpose of stipulating the causal contribution of culture, this is no different in its implications from the viewpoint that supposes that the economy is the active motor of change but that culture does not perfectly reflect economic circumstances, due either to cultural inertia or, if culture is treated as more plastic, due to the incomplete impression made by present economic conditions; nor is it different in its implications from the perspective that asserts that the differences in the national economies, the alleged foundation of social change, were naturally "reflected" in cultural conceptions which were then imported into diverse local undertakings, such as the regionally circumscribed wool industries. From each of these points of view, culture serves as a component, possibly a necessary one, in the creation of institutions, but it is the conduit, even if imperfect, of an original economic logic, not a systematically structuring force in its own right.
In order to override this reductionist interpretation of the findings of this study, wherein cultural differences only mirrored antecedent economic conditions, it is plausible but unsatisfactory to insist dogmatically, as a general rule of social theory, that what we designate the economy could not come into existence except through the medium of culture. Certainly the succession of economic structures cannot serve as the ultimate foundation of cultural change, for the economy has no history of its own apart from its realization in the culture, which gives shape to human practice. But this peremptory culturalist line of argument no longer makes appeal to an evidentiary demonstration; it no longer advances a research program by showing that the study of culture parsimoniously explains a wide range of phenomena that purely utilitarian or adaptive theories of practice do not
seem to cover. Not to waste words, the dogmatic culturalist interpretation of the results of the present inquiry into the origins of industrial differences is disenchanting because, if accepted, it means that the evidence marshalled in this study cannot be used to adjudicate between theoretic alternatives. It might well return us to the starting point of choosing an allegiance to a variety of theory based on a priori inclinations.
Perhaps we can apply the conventional method of distinguishing between cause and effect by temporal priority. A survey of the transition to liberal commercialism in each country shows that the definition of labor as a commodity emerged in speculative intellectual ruminations upon economic processes before it was embodied in micro-procedures on the factory shop floor. In their characteristic specifications of labor's commodity form, Adam Smith and Johann Lotz each uncannily foretold the shape of practice in his own country's industrial future. If this sequence of development shows that the definition of labor did not reflect established practice in the factory, does it also show that culture represented a force in its own right for institutional development? By itself, the chronological precedence of distinctive national differences in discourse about labor does not resolve this issue, for it might well be the case that the strategic goal of legitimating a profitable factory system was responsible for sustaining or resurrecting traditions of thought about labor which would not otherwise have been reproduced. Even if cultural definitions of labor display striking continuities, an advocate of utilitarian modes of explanation can still maintain that economic requirements decide which cultural features survive at the national level.
Because of its extensive reliance upon configurational analysis, however, this study enables us to make limited causal inferences from the temporal priority of the cultural template. For the outcome we are analyzing is not an isolated element or a single appurtenance of institutions, but a comprehensive constellation of practices. If the outcome to be explained were a simple trait, such as the affirmation of paternalism, then it might be treated as an accompaniment of factory systems which would have been legitimated in some other fashion in the absence of this feature; or it could be dismissed as a trait that was unsubstitutable, but had it not already been in place, would have been invented to meet the needs of the factory system; or, finally, it could be acknowledged as a resource that the economic agents could not have created, but which they put to the service of a structuring economic logic. But the outcome to be explained, as our synchronic comparison emphasized, was a complete cluster of practices. The tendency toward a pattern-
ing of these techniques shows that culture was not just an ingredient or a resource but a structuring principle. In this case, the appearance of the specification of labor in discourse prior to its embodiment in factory procedures is causally definitive; as a system of practice with an internal symbolic logic, culture stands revealed as a positive shaper rather than an accompaniment or passive resource for institutions.
The synchronic comparison of parallel segments of the British and German wool industries shows that practices were configured to form meaningful constellations, but it does not identify in positive fashion the historical genesis of these patterns. It contributes to explaining their initial emergence only by ruling out utilitarian accounts of their genesis. But excluding a competing mode of explanation for historical developments does not by default endorse one's own explanation if one's alternative represents not the simple negation of the rival but an entirely different approach. What is more, the differences in the economic environments may not account for the installation of differing factory practices, but they could still account for the invention of different specifications of labor before they took on a life of their own. Thus the question for delimiting culture's causal influence is not only whether culture "did" something, but from where that culture came. Even if a specification of labor as a commodity imposed a constitutive logic of its own once it was lodged in the factory, the argument might go, this fact offers slight reason for centering the comparative study of history on culture if national differences in cultural conceptions originated as a mere aspect of corresponding economic conditions.
Yet in Britain and Germany the features of the newly emergent discourse about labor that were uncovered in this inquiry debar attempts to see economic circumstances as the cause of the creation of distinctive concepts of labor as a commodity. In Britain the notion that wage workers transfer their labor as it is embodied in a product represented an idealized interpretation, not a mirror image, of the institutions of work in the transition to liberal commercialism. In seventeenth-century Britain, when wage laborers were prevented, at least in official opinion, from offering their labor as a freely marketable ware, and the independent artisan became the exemplary seller of labor, the bulk of the working population was excluded from the paradigm of commercial labor. When labor power became formally marketable in the course of the eighteenth century, Adam Smith, the prototypical philosopher of petty commodity production, recognized in The Wealth of Nations a continued divergence between fact and orienting model. Even while Smith employed the model of labor incarnated in a finished ware by a small
producer as his paradigm of the circulation of commodities, he acknowledged that nearly all worked in the service of a master, not as independent artificers. In Germany the exclusion of craft work as an imaginary locus for the emergence of labor as a commodity in the first half of the nineteenth century depended on the small urban producers' continued allegiance to a world of corporate production, seemingly in ignorance of the inescapable "reality" of a secular economic transition. Yet the response of the artificers in Germany did not appear out of thin air: unlike their British counterparts, they had in the main lost their guild monopolies only recently, and they confronted the institutionalization of liberal commercialism at a more threatening point on the clock of world development than British artificers did, a point at which it was evidently feasible for centralized factories to supersede craft production. But for this fact to be interpreted and thereby to bear consequences, the agents in Germany had to draw upon the outlying domains of their experience: the imagined past, the global and national economic context, and the projected future. When the manufactory and the textile mill comprised a statistically small portion of employment, they still served as the key site in Germany for the exemplification of capitalist wage labor. The forms of labor as a commodity to which the agents subscribed grew out of the conditions of economic development and exchange, but only as the agents conceived of their relation to them.
That the element of labor became the centerpiece of economic speculation during the transition to commercial liberalism underscores the symbolic process by which the agents established their relation to the commercial world. The young Karl Marx, upon making initial contact with classical political economy, understood that this received body of thought comprised a monumental break with prior reflections on commercial intercourse. Previously wealth had seemed to inhere in natural objects; now, under the sign of capital or, more fundamentally, accumulated labor, agents conceived of it as a form of human subjectivity. As is well known, Marx called Adam Smith "the Luther of political economy," for Smith reoriented belief by showing that development no longer issued from external forces
but arose from the labor of the human subject. The focus on human labor as both the generator and the regulator of value in Smith's eighteenth-century Britain coincided with the consecration of market categories as an effective ideology—that is, as the source of the operative schemata of everyday practice. The agents of commercial life incorporated the conditions of existence into their culture in such a way as to define themselves as the subjects of the economic process, but precisely in so doing they made it possible for themselves to become enmeshed in—and become subject to —these economic procedures. The discourse in which the specification of labor's commodity form can first be detected did not just record the landscape of commodities in motion, either straightforwardly or by a natural camera obscura; rather, it performed the symbolic work of constituting people as autonomous subjects even as it enveloped them in a sovereign economic system.
On some of the underlying uniformities identified between the German and British mills—their staffing, the distribution of tasks to overlookers, the general reliance on piece rates for weavers—cultural differences did not impinge. Culture is situated in every institution of society, but not everything is culturally determined. If we admit that the necessity of adapting to the economic environment accounts for certain uniformities between German and British mills—such as the general reliance on piece rates for weavers—do we then fall back on the position that culture was nonetheless determinative "in the last instance"? Such ultimate causes have no observable incarnation in history. But neither has this study retreated to the chicken-and-egg position in which culture and the economy are both necessary for each other's substantiation and the contribution of culture to the constitution of the labor process is limited to one category of prerequisite factors in an inextricable combination of causes. The manner in which culture is seen as making its separate contribution to the historical process differs fundamentally according to whether one is assessing the institution-
alization of practice through contrasting specifications of labor or whether one is considering the origins of those conceptual assumptions. Culture operates in spite of economic similarities in the essentially synchronic comparisons between matched textile factories, so the typical differences in the symbolic orchestration of practice can be attributed to culture alone at this stage in the analysis. Only an argument based upon configurational reasoning can advance such a claim to causal exclusivity. Of course the material components of production were indispensable for the incorporation of culture into practice, but the systematic differences in the typical meaningful configuration of those resources obeyed nothing but an internal cultural logic. In the comparisons between Germany and Britain as wholes for the sake of identifying the origins of divergent conceptions of labor, culture is seen to operate in an environment of established contrasts in economic institutions. In each country, the agents moved in a cultural milieu that enabled them to isolate certain sectors in the country's economy as the prototypical site for the transmission of labor under liberal commercialism and to simplify and idealize features of the labor transaction.
To filter and interpret the record of evidence, historical investigators bring to bear a theoretical lens formed by their own vantage point in history. Since the researchers themselves stand inside history, the lens they use may comprise a product of the very course of change they are subjecting to examination. This principle offers an explanatory key for the present study. Marx's analysis of the difference between "labor power" and "embodied labor" and his influential emphasis on the ultimate genesis of profit in the conversion of "labor power" developed in response to the experience, shared by German employers and workers in the nineteenth century, of a rapid transition from feudal-corporate institutions of work to the capitalist factory system. As a scholar marked by the German developmental experience and steeped in German economic history, Marx unintentionally replicated in his texts the symbolic forms of everyday practice enacted by German workers and employers. My analysis of the history of economic thought suggests that Marx's position in the German milieu permitted him to recycle the cultural definition of labor as labor power which governed German practice and to present it in the form of a theory. If Marx can be used to analyze the development of German factories, so, too, can the development of German factories be used to analyze Marx.
This principle gives us new means both for theorizing history and for historicizing theory. The late-twentieth-century sociologist who uses Marx's concept of labor power as a tool to analyze the history of factory
relations has found a powerful lever, not because the concept necessarily penetrates the hidden essence of capitalism, but thanks to the concept's encapsulation of the particularities of the German experience of industrialization. To this extent, my method may carry subversive implications. In drawing upon the distinction between embodied labor and labor power I have changed the status of those terms. I converted them from analytic distinctions in the realm of high theory into cultural categories that people used in the inconspicuous procedures of everyday life. Making them a constituent part of sensuous human practice, rather than an outward description of action imposed by the analyst, makes them more "real" but, paradoxically, less objective—for, as realized categories of culture, they become genuine appurtenances of subjects rather than theoretic properties of economic objects.
Having established the cultural formation of the instrumentalities in the workplace, I considered the consequences of those practices for the articulation of grievances and for the adoption of ideologies of exploitation in workers' labor movements. The historical significance of the differences between the cultural construction of labor in German and in British textile factories does not lie in their effects upon economic efficiency, which in all likelihood remained exiguous. Rather, the cultural differences are notable for the differing ways in which they shaped workers' lived experience of the employment relation and thereby provided the underlying assumptions for their union movements. British textile workers focused on the acquisition of products at less than their true market value as the source of exploitation. Without the concept of labor power as a commodity, they did not move from theories about the creation of profit in the market to theories that focused on the extraction of surplus value at the point of production. Their textile unions, which in the 1890s sponsored the rebirth of socialist ideas, focused on the need to redistribute capital and access to the market rather than on the need to remove the subordination of living labor. In Germany, the textile workers' daily experience of the buying and selling of labor power on the shop floor gave them the cultural resources necessary for the positive reception of Marxist economic theory, or at least of a Marxist economic idiom, from the Social Democratic textile union.
In its appropriation of Marx's economic categories as cultural constructs, this inquiry may seem double-edged. In fact, it contains another paradox. Every act of rejection has a moment of reaffirmation. At the same time that this study shows how culture constituted the means of production, it lends qualified support to Marx's emphasis on the importance of the labor activity
for the formation of people's understanding of social relations. The respective cultural definitions of labor in Germany and in Britain did not survive through sheer inertia or through the might of intellectuals' discourse. They were sustained by a constellation of practices at the factory—from the small rituals of entering the mill to the fining systems for defective cloth—that gave them palpable form. Culture was enacted, not permanently absorbed. Even within the grey walls of the factory, the meanings that the activity of manufacturing sustains may bear ideological consequences as significant as are its instrumental outcomes. German workers were not duped by Marxist ideologues when they focused on the use of Arbeitskraft as the source of the owners' profit, nor did they thereby necessarily discover the essential workings of the capitalist system. Rather, the cultural categories that practices on the shop floor sustained provided German workers with a spontaneous theory of exploitation—a lived truth, if you will—that proved critical for their sympathetic reception of Marxist ideas.
Examining the independent influence of culture on the institutions of the factory solves two problems in labor history with one piece of evidence. It bridges the perplexing divide—established, if not discovered, by E. P. Thompson—between the structured relations of the economy and what Thompson celebrated as the fluid, creative, and heroic formation of political beliefs among workers. The present study identifies the determinate ways in which the symbolic apparatuses of production established the assumptions about labor that workers brought to the arena of politics, but it makes this causal linkage without resorting to economic reductionism. The ideologies of exploitation accepted in the labor movements were fixed, not by the workplace's economic structure, but by the cultural forms inscribed in the micro-practices of production, forms which varied independently of the material or socio-organizational conditions of the manufacturing process.
As a cross-national comparison conceived with a selective question, this investigation has of necessity focused upon a decisive contrast between countries rather than upon variation within them. But this expansive comparison nonetheless affords a perspective from which to study differences within each country in workers' experiences, above all those emerging from the divisions of gender. Consider the inflection of gender distinctions upon the factories' control of intervals of labor in the course of the workday. In Germany, many textile mills granted a special schedule to female workers in charge of households. For example, at lunch time or on the eve of holidays, for the sake of readying the family meal, these women could leave the
factory at least half an hour earlier than other workers. The arrangement was consistent with the procedure of partitioning the use of labor power into increments of time that were indefinitely divisible. It also tallied with other rotating or irregular schedules for adult workers in Germany, such as rest pauses whose length alternated according to the day of the week. In Britain, factory owners before the First World War often discussed ways of attracting more workers, especially women, to mill work. They considered giving the mill a more wholesome atmosphere and offering cleaner working conditions. But they did not grant women an extended lunch or single them out for early release on the eve of holidays. This would have fragmented the block of a complete day and slowed the delivery of products. Female textile workers in Britain could instead adjust workdays to their household schedule by sending substitute workers to take their place at the looms. Unlike their German counterparts, they had to offer prompt delivery of products, not necessarily access to their own labor power. These differences in the treatment of women's labor show that the form assumed by labor as a
commodity did not exhaust the determinants of factory life, but operated as a pivotal category that mediated the influence of gender distinctions.