Notes for Comparative Social History Reading List: Hegemony & Inventing Tradition

Comments* on the Concept of Hegemony and the Invention of Tradition in Historiography with reference to:

Eric Hobsbawm, and Terence Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983);

Gregory S. Kealy, and Bryan D. Palmer, Dreaming of what might be: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880-1900 (Toronto: New Hogstown Press,1987);

Ian McKay, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth- Century Nova Scotia (Montreal and Kingston: McGll-Queen’s University Press, 1994);

Gerald Sider, Between History and Tomorrow: Making and Breaking Everyday Life in Rural Newfoundland (Peterborough, ON.: Broadview Press, c.2003), [59-178];

Vicki Howard, “A ‘Real Man’s Ring’: Gender and the Invention of Tradition,” Journal of Social History 36, no. 4 (2003): 837-856;

Thomas Spear, “neo-Traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British Colonial Africa,” Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003): 3-27.

The concepts of tradition and hegemony have been used by a variety of theorists to explain the pervasiveness and origin of particular ways of understanding what, historically, the expectations for behaviour were within social systems: how and why did group insiders come to share perceptions of the world that, though the perceptions were held to be accurate, were distinctive and perhaps at odds with the perceptions about the same world held by outsiders equally convinced that theirs was the accurate perception?[1]

Arriving at answers about how people think has proved difficult for historians, in no small part because time (if not space), is a factor that positions them as outsiders to the social systems they investigate. Without the benefit of direct observation to guide investigation, and relying on fragmentary documentation that may supply only indirect evidence, knowledge gaps are bridged through deduction, induction, and recourse to causal theory.[2] Karl Marx posited ideology as a determinant in generating or sustaining widespread social movement. Max Weber sought to demonstrate religious ideology has operated as such a determinant. However, subsequent scholars have not been uniformly satisfied that sharing a religious or any other ideology necessarily results in a unified social vision across space and time. As is the case with any other historical variables, if ideas are to figure in historical explanation, simple correlation cannot be taken as an unambiguous indication of cause and effect. Theorists have therefore sought to refine understanding of the realm of ideas by supplying a finer definition of its aspects, isolating for examination socially held and circulated ideas that appear to operate as social forces, and tracing the history of such ideas.

Attempting to analyze the works listed above within historiographical theoretical trends reveals that tracing the application of hypotheses and theories, about how ideas may have been socially innervating, is complicated. Alternative theories have been generated within disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Philosophers, culturalists and communications theorists have added to the mix. Not all of the resultant theories are congruent, although some are complementary.[3] Even if only Marxist-derived approaches are considered, it becomes apparent that there is no unified theory. Depending on what questions might arise with respect to the theories utilized in the works commented on in this paper, and how answers to those questions are pursued, the range of quasi-synonymous, auxiliary, and contending terms and concepts encountered can be immense. For example a brief list of terms related to tradition and hegemony might include: beliefs, values, cognition, conformity, perception, consciousness, identity, custom, myth, invention, convention, empowerment, force, dominance, authority, legitimacy, resistance, persuasion, justification, acceptance, disincentive, morality, and responsibility. The list could go on. None of the concepts the terms represent are simple. All of the terms can be combined in a seemingly infinite array of descriptions and explanations of what might possibly lie behind human social behavior. As theorists do not necessarily adhere to the same definition of a term, concepts sharing a name may differ markedly.

Eric Hobsbawm used ‘invented tradition’ to describe “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with [a selective, suitable historic] past.”[4] He describes tradition as different from custom in that custom pertains to action, while tradition pertains to appearances adopted when performing an action. Although the action performed may have a purpose, the purpose is socially functional (the goal is to satisfy an idealized want), rather than functionally practical (as when the goal is to meet a materially requisite need).[5] Possibly as a concession to the work of contributors to The Invention of Tradition, such as Hugh Trevor-Roper’s, “The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland,” and Prys Morgan’s, “From a Death to a View: The Hunt for the Welsh Past in the Romantic Period,” Hobsbawm allows that, in addition to bolstering group cohesion, and/ or legitimizing societal institutions, invented traditions—as deliberate acts of social engineering—may also serve to invent loyalty to such imagined (to borrow a concept from Benedict Anderson) collectivities as states.[6]

The supposed ability to foster loyalty is to my mind the only problematic aspect of this collectively-arrived-at formulation as it amounts to an assertion that rests on an assumption about the effectiveness of the top-down dissemination of ideas. At levels up to and including the national scale the assumption has been described as elitist. At the international scale, the assumption has been described as the diffusionist paradigm. A considerable-enough amount of research in a variety of disciplines has been amassed to call the assumption into question—particularly when time is factored into the equation.  Hobsbawm himself backs away from unequivocal support of the assertion in his own article, “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914.”[7] He notes that, as those critical of the idea of top-down dissemination have argued, whether presented in an educational or propagandistic guise, the message that a particular tradition is a superior means of expressing a communally shared vision is only accepted en masse when the posited tradition is compatible with a pre-existing but individually generated, if widely held, opinion.[8] Other researchers have also found that although such opinion may appear to be popular, close examination reveals ambiguities and inconsistencies among individuals who seemingly share the opinion. It proves to be shared only superficially. A tradition may be expressed ambiguously enough or in such general terms that its central tenet appeals at the level of lowest common denominator—celebrating ‘the family’ or ‘democracy’ for example without specifically defining which people in what combinations qualify to be included under the rubric—leaving much room for creative elaboration by individuals after their own fashion.[9] To an extent, Terence Ranger, in “The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa,” defines the creative elaboration of invented traditions as one of negotiation.[10] He points out how, during times of pronounced political economic transition, to bolster or to establish a position in a newly developing social hierarchy, one group might counter another group’s attempt to depict exclusion as ‘traditional.’ Such a counter move, reflecting attempts to assert autonomy, may include appropriating aspects of a new ‘tradition’ devised by outsiders.[11] Outsider or dominant invention therefore is not necessarily free of intervention from below.

Thus, it has been argued that the successful invention of tradition might not only be determined to a significant degree from the bottom up, but what exactly the tradition represents is unlikely to mean the same thing to all people who profess its validity.[12] Yet, according to both Hobsbawm’s and Ranger’s observations, historically, those ensconced in the upper echelons of a social hierarchy, who would impose tradition, typically perceived persons represented as belonging to social orders lower than their own not as individual agents who were making use of whatever flexibility their social position might afford to decide where their loyalties might best reside, but as a chaotic and irrational ‘mass’ potentially capable of spawning ‘internal enemies’ and in need of tutelage regarding proper order.[13] Further, if custom was reformulated during the process of inventing tradition (legally sanctifying the dispossession and pauperization of groups deemed socially excludable for example), Ranger’s description suggests that often social and political economic planners—and historians—represented this is an unintentional outcome. Whether documents that record the opinions of such planners depict their privately held, conscious and unconscious apprehensions fully and accurately is open for debate (did they act out of a paternalistic altruism, or the fear of one who is vastly outnumbered?).

In whichever direction the causal chain is held to proceed—top to bottom, bottom to top, or both—Hobsbawm’s conviction that it is important to subject invented traditions to historical examination is warranted. According to Hobsbawm, and supported by the findings of Trevor-Roper and Morgan, invented traditions may be thought of as expressions of group identity (abstract attributes that distinguish one group from another on the basis of their different relation to something else). As such, Hobsbawm suggests, along with Bernard S. Cohn, in “Representing Authority in Victorian England,” that, “they are important symptoms and therefore indicators of problems [involving contest] which might not otherwise be recognized, and developments which are otherwise difficult to identify and date.”[14] As a historian, Hobsbawm, like David Cannadine in “The Context, Performance and Meaning of Ritual: The British Monarchy and the ‘Invention of Tradition,” finds invented traditions to be less interesting in themselves than for the way in which they may be used to direct attention to, and confirm the significance of, aspects of a wider study. They seek to answer the question: “why, in terms of changing societies in changing historical situations, such needs [for the continuity that traditions imply] came to be felt.”[15] To that end, investigating and understanding contexts in which traditions are invented is considered to be of central importance.[16]

Gregory S. Kealey, and Bryan D. Palmer describe an instance where the invention of tradition to serve an organization’s goals is evident. In Ontario between 1880 and 1900 the Knights of Labour sought to revive and institute ‘chivalry’ in a form suited to their own changing circumstance and time.[17] Kealey and Palmer’s study is inspired by the conviction that the “beginnings” of seeming blind alleys in social history are important.[18] In the course of attempting to locate and describe this particular beginning they demonstrate their preference for “comprehensive” analysis by amassing extensive contextual detail.[19] The concept of hegemony is introduced as a means of giving shape to their analysis. An emphasis is placed on culture. Whether the methodological and theoretical components combine into an intellectual apparatus adequate to Kealey and Palmer’s purpose is not clear. They submit that their historical subject is shot through with contradictory impulses, and their argument—described as “speculative and tentative”—becomes ambiguous in the presentation.[20]

An important point in Kealey and Palmer’s argument is that in a period of transition (such as the early development of Canada, as a nation-state on the road to entrenching monopolistic industrial capitalism in its society, represented[21]), people might not only recognize an opportunity to challenge an apparently fixed relation of political economic dominance and subordination, they might also envision themselves as the agents of a new relation—in the case of the Knights of Labour, principally through applying moral suasion.[22] Kealey and Palmer present hegemony as key to understanding the dynamic at work. They describe the sphere in which the ruling class expressed dominance as cultural.[23] Marx is quoted to suggest that a nascent “alternative-hegemony” can be identified in historical contexts where traditions are invoked as “battle cries and costumes” for dissent and used to “present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language.”[24] Citing Gramsci, Kealey and Palmer advance a claim that either the choice or the act (it is not clear which) of belonging to a labour organization “changes the psychology and the behavior (customs) of workers.”[25] The statement is modified somewhat when Raymond Williams’ point is raised that people need to be convinced that the possibility of realizing a posited alternative is not a pipe-dream: belonging to an organization is not sufficient to divest individuals of inherent critical capacities.[26] And, as Williams is also cited to point out, regardless of rhetoric and display, unless a revolution occurs, dominant hegemonies will be dominant.[27]

The wealth of information compiled by Kealey and Palmer sufficiently supports most of the points summarized above. Although the dominant hegemony in Ontario was apparently not strong enough to prevent the appearance of an idea suggestive of ‘alternative hegemony’ and put forward by the Knights of Labour during a period of transition, the dream of ‘alternative hegemony’ did not bring about a revolution. As a result the dominant hegemony won out. What I find perplexing is that the explanatory power of hegemony appears reside in its ability to be both cause and effect. Such a formulation tends to imply that knowledge gaps have been bridged when in fact sizable holes remain. In this instance, the one point lacking sufficient supporting evidence is that behaviour or psychology significantly changed, individually or en masse, as a result of joining the Knights of Labour. Historical evidence is necessary if an alternative hegemony is to be confirmed as a cultural fact (which Kealey and Palmer assert it was at one point) and not simply an idea, (as their title suggests). Without much more explicit evidence about the worker/ producer members of the Knights of Labour (for example who they were, what values and beliefs they espoused, where and when they derived their ideas, and most importantly, how much exposure to the organization they actually had[28]), it is possible to surmise that what Kealey and Palmer describe as paradoxes and ironies are actually indications of a disjunction between what was promised or expected and what was delivered. What is not demonstrated is that a distinct vision was created that was not merely posturing as oppositional, rather it was robust and coherent enough to be regarded as “forged,” potentially hegemonic, a “culture,” and, one that was actually “alternate.”[29] I wonder if perhaps the “eclectic appeal” of the Knights of Labour organization, an appeal which included the idea of mutual aid in social betterment along with ritual and ceremony, though it presented a “powerful attraction,” did no more than excite enthusiasm among a wide variety of “producing classes” just long enough to support a pyramid scheme (replete with unabashed, self-interested entrepreneurs), until it reached its limit and “precipitously” collapsed.[30] It does appear that there was an attempt to invent something in Ontario over the course of a decade. Kealy and Palmer do succeed in showing that at least some intellectuals had the capacity to counter a capitalist tendency to callous opportunism; some people were capable of enunciating the human capacity for hope and striking a responsive chord in many other people. However, when read with other historiographical theorizations in mind, Kealy and Palmer’s presentation does not establish unequivocally whether what was being invented in the time and place they study was a variant hegemony, a tradition, or what Ian McKay might describe as a ‘Folk.’[31]

The principal theories that shape Ian McKay’s approach to the study of society and social vision—in the twentieth-century politically-, economically-, and industrially-marginalized province of Nova Scotia—are derived from Marxian political economy, cultural studies (he particularly acknowledges post-modernism and Foucauldian genealogy), and “neo-Gramscian theories” (specifically hegemony).[32] What Mckay’s analysis brings to the discussion of tradition and hegemony is a much greater emphasis on the politics of economy and market: who benefits, who profits, and what is maintained.[33] He looks at the way hegemony influences the invention of tradition so that class privilege is preserved.[34] The Canadian state, with its drive for international recognition as a ‘first class’ country, plays no small part in the process.[35] For McKay capitalism is the context. The operative hegemony is capitalistic. Invention is a process that, in the course of serving capitalist economic interests, blocks counter-hegemonic political impulses. McKay sees tradition as a concept that, manipulated through invention, can enhance opportunities to access markets. It becomes a marketing device in that products are ascribed a differential.[36] Songs, objects, places, and people are imputed a rare or unique quality that increases their value as commodities to be consumed.[37] The measure of “cultural value” becomes “business success.”[38] McKay’s concern is that, while all of this activity is taking place, attention within society is diverted from what is being lost and who is suffering in consequence.

McKay treats the hegemonic properties of capitalism as pervasive and pernicious. Hegemony leaves a populace vulnerable to self-deception—especially during periods when social and economic security seems threatened.[39] He suggests that the tenets of capitalism are so deeply entrenched as to be internalized. His close study of individual “cultural entrepreneurs” shows this internalization to be particularly evident in people who fit the general description of ‘middle-class’ North Americans: they are not poor, nor are they independently wealthy, they are educated, they harbour a sense of superiority, mingling easily with those of superior means and paternalistically with those whose means are limited.[40] Their impulse seems to rest on a fear of upheaval. Modernity appears to move at a pace that they find alarming and disorienting. They cling to a hope of stability and permanence, fabricating a myth of continuity that flies in the face of experience, if need be. They are also fervent believers in the efficacy of cooperative, organic unity within society.[41] Thus, their mythomoteur (“the constitutive myth of the ethnic polity with particular claims about the group’s origins and lines of descent”) ascribes humble and common beginnings to their society’s cultural heritage and seeks to celebrate those beginnings in order to celebrate their society (and, coincidentally but not accidentally, their own place within it).[42]

What is not explicit in McKay’s account, but may be read into his discussion of ‘Innocence,’ is that one tenet that informs capitalist ideology and has an impact on how the middle-class inventors of tradition construct origins is an idea with a hegemonic quality of its own—evolution.[43] By substituting metaphor for fact, modernity’s poor become the ‘purest’ exemplars of the fictive original social stock—the Folk—simply because as a social ‘sub-species,’ the ‘simple life’ of the poor is assumed to show the least evolution towards urban, industrial living.[44] Thus, the notion of Innocence presents simplicity as a choice rather than noticing that ‘doing without’ is imposed by poverty and is a feature of inequality.[45] The reality of outmigration as a desperate response to political-economic trauma is refashioned as a traditional wanderlust or the achievement of upward mobility.[46] The comforting essentialist Folk origin is substituted for a troubling actual history through conscious (though unconsciously informed) acts of selective appropriation and invention.[47] History is erased. ‘Authenticity’ rests on fabrication and, most importantly, society’s acquiescence to the erasure of history.[48]

Although McKay’s critique holds state representatives and a cadre of their middle-class ‘missionaries’ responsible for getting the culture-as-capitalist-resource ball rolling, naive cooperation in, and uncritical acceptance of, that project (to construct a symbolic identity that disallows expressions of dissent) leaves few—if any—members of society free of blame.[49] In allowing capitalist hegemony to dictate cultural norms and forms in their province, McKay finds Nova Scotians guilty of generating debilitating—because politically and economically self-defeating—stereotypes of themselves and their region as backward and conservative.[50]

As a social commentary I find Mckay’s censure partial. The question that his analysis skirts by invoking hegemony is why ‘everybody else’ went along with what, in his account at least, appears to be ‘the few,’ because it neglects to investigate who ‘everybody else’ was. Both they and their intellectual capacity are assumed. In the absence of any statistical evidence or analysis, for example, it is impossible to know how many people of what sorts of varieties were available for, or capable of, countering the ideas and activities of people such as Helen Creighton and Mary Black. Without knowing more of the wider populations’ prospects and experiences, it is impossible to judge their motives. Their scope for agency is unknown. The choice that McKay lays out as available to them—either go with the flow (wrong) or revolt (right)—is too simple, because such a simplification of the overall picture is really only available to those who possess hindsight (in this case extending over a lengthy period of time).

As a defense of history that presents historiography as a valuable corrective, I find McKay’s text exemplary (as were E.P. Thompson’s and Herbert G. Gutman’s). He demonstrates convincingly that historians have a role to play if ignorance (and ‘false consciousness’) is to be ameliorated. However, I am unconvinced that a basic conundrum has been transcended: if historiography is a means to affect a shift in perception, who—or what—determines which historians have the better grasp of the best vision?

Gerald Sider, writing about another Atlantic context—Newfoundland—and people undergoing trying changes, acknowledges that it is difficult to “talk very clearly about the involvement of ordinary people in the transformation of their social lives.”[51] He therefore formulates an intellectual framework that is meant to enable such discussion. He draws on a wide range of theoretical and disciplinary approaches, and definitions, to develop a terminologically rich paradigm that is, in my opinion idiosyncratic, overly complicated, and difficult to understand. He supplies a very limited sample of evidence— whether judged by anthropological, historiographical, or sociological standards. I am unable to grasp the significance of his paradigmatic finer points, how they relate to his overall position, or to his subject. This failure on my part severely limits my ability to comment on his work.[52]

In some instances, tradition appears to be conceptually conflated with hegemony, and custom. This conflation is evident when Sider interposes the cultural medium of ‘traditionalism’ (“an expression of a process” that is capable of transferring political power over geographical distances in an unequal relation predicated on a contest involving material resources) in his formulation. The conflation also appears when he describes the (apparently freely chosen) ‘embedding of loss,’ by way of tradition, of an ability to develop more complex social structure in “locally based societies … [that] exist in the context of [(apparently) irremediable] domination.” And I find conflation again when he describes tradition as a culturally ordered, “border-defining process” that is consistent with constructing group identity, inventing tradition, and maintaining compliance at one and the same time.[53]

Sider finds invented tradition and hegemony at work in instances where I cannot see either concept as necessarily operational (even if I apply what I apprehend to be his understanding of the terms). He ascribes to behaviours cultural meanings and social outcomes beyond what, in my opinion, are warranted. The point made seems to be that outsiders are smarter than Newfoundlanders.[54] I can only conclude that his conception of logic differs substantially from my own. From my perspective, Sider’s approach to historiography demonstrates that present-day academics may use history to construct Folk with as much ease as any past elites.

Vicki Howard, like McKay (and in some respects Sider), places the invention of tradition within the marketplace. I admire Howard’s presentation and organization of historiography, her article has much to commend it. She convincingly demonstrates that “By comparing the rise of the double ring ceremony with the story of the earlier 1920s male engagement ring—an invented tradition that failed—it becomes clear that jewelers were only able to change custom when such practices resonated with their potential audience.”[55] It is refreshing to encounter a historiographical argument that counters the suggestion that marketing (including advertising design and placement), in and of itself, is capable of changing human behavior. However, that Capitalism may be the dominant hegemony but people are not a mindless mass, and that people do not buy into a trend so much as they determine trends, are hardly news items to capitalists, their marketing departments, their public relations departments, or the advertising agencies they employ.[56] What remains to be seen is whether Howard’s conclusion that “The practice only became the thing to do when cultural producers and consumers conspired in the act of cultural production, forging new meanings around the ritual of ring exchange” finds widespread acceptance among historians by way of confirmation of the dynamics of cultural production in other historical contexts.[57] In particular I suspect that the question of how ‘conspiring’ is to be understood will continue to engender debate.

Thomas Spear is sensitive to the connotations that terms can carry. By his argument, conspiring would be a less accurate term than negotiating when it comes to tradition, custom, communities, and change. Spear takes issue with the term invention, as it implies a relatively simple process of construction: as though an act of genius plucked a new relation, fully formed, out of otherworldly ether. He argues “that the case for colonial invention has often overstated colonial power and ability to manipulate African institutions to establish hegemony.”

Spear regards tradition as a form of discourse, replete with complexity, which served as a cultural resource. Its components—ideas about obligations, social structuring, the nature of reality and values—though they could be reinterpreted, where based on longstanding customs which were not easily “fabricated or manipulated”, by group insiders, outsiders, or crossovers. Nor could the components be ignored and circumvented. Thus they “often limited colonial power as much as facilitating it.”[58] Change could be suggested; support or antagonism might result. Why what happened did happen—change or continuity—is open to historiographical interpretation. Spear suggests economic factors as much as culture need to be considered: what demands were being made with respect to patterns of land holding, the location of work places, and the selection of products as marketable?[59] His point is that responses were made to these demands, and therefore where the demands came from, how they were voiced, and how greatly they were at variance with local precedents are of fundamental importance to ‘best practice’ historiography.

To reduce history to a series of insider/ outsider encounters that gave rise to moments of invention, to Spear’s way of thinking, is to minimize and even miss components that make historical process dynamic. [60] The term he would substitute for invention is reinterpretation and for construction he would use reconstruction. In this way he argues, the fact that the communication of past experience always informs how people respond in and to their present is kept in view. Agency in his formulation is a constant that is intimately connected to communication, debate, and decision making.

From his discussion of colonialism, it appears that Spear regards hegemony as a flawed theory: the appearance of consent may mask the existence of mis-communication; a hegemonic pattern may only reflect the existence of a ‘working misunderstanding’—one party assuming they have developed a strategy to elicit compliance to a hoped-for status quo, the other party constantly reassessing their circumstances and condition in an open-ended process of becoming.[61] Hegemony then, is a form of theorized ‘wishful thinking’—an attempt to assert the imposition of community values and to control change or continuity from above.

What I find striking about Spear is that the more he seems to advance beyond, or improve upon, earlier historiographical conceptions of tradition and hegemony, the closer he seems to come to Thompsonian historical materialism. Rather than instances of the decisive imposition of dominant ideas, he finds a gradual and cumulative process of democratic consensus building. Outcomes are less indicative of the intentioned triumph of ideology (of any morality) than of the continuous working out of a play of ever changing and modifying forces over time. Outcomes, then, are never final. Agency is constantly applied. Because trial and error rules, hegemony and tradition are illusory in that they are elements of discourse, not material forces. Spear’s conception appears to support the argument that human experience—of the material world, of perceived consequences, of communication— is a critical category of historical analysis.

I began this set of readings with an eye to determining how the ideas of tradition and hegemony put forward in the different texts related to each other and how they might further my understanding of class and agency in historical process. I found formulating comments and conclusions difficult. However, despite what appears to me to be wide and confusing conceptual variance within this selection of works there does seem to be a significant commonality. Just as E.P. Thompson argued that the explanatory distance between social being and social consciousness is bridged by experience giving rise to agency, it appears that the authors listed above agree that a similar explanatory bridge is necessary between social consciousness and social activity (whether presented as agitation or movement as a group). If this bridge can be thought of as a socially experienced agency, then a question that to my way of thinking should be of importance to each of the authors surveyed is how this bridge is constructed. However, it does not appear that the majority of authors wish to directly address this issue as, for the most part, the answer to the question is assumed. To put it simplistically—with the exception of Thomas Spear and to some degree Kealey and Palmer—the authors assume that when it comes to group dynamics, leaders lead and followers follow. Socially experienced agency has therefore a limited or concentrated point of origin: the ideas of a few are picked up by the many. This suggests that if people learn from the experience of individual agency, either what the many learn is somehow of limited utility when applied socially (thinking about choices as an individual does not translate into formulating group decisions), or what the many learn is that they are personally inept at making choices and so distrust their own decision making ability. The problem, if the point is to distinguish class in itself from class for itself, is that ascribing importance to leaders leaves the agency of many historical actors oddly impotent. The authors show that historical actors act, but it is not at all clear what the many among those actors think. I am not arguing that it is feasible or even possible for source-based history to arrive at what went on in the minds of past persons and peoples. The information is not available. Knowledge gaps have to be filled somehow. Best-guess hypotheses are necessary if what is known of behaviors is to be interpreted. I am noting that of the range of assumptions that are available to aid interpretation, at a point that is core to their explanation, these texts tend to rely on an idea that obscures rather than informs.

Of the two concepts, tradition and hegemony, the former strikes me as having the most utility by virtue of its more careful formulation and precise articulation—at least by Hobsbawm and Williams. At the point where Hobsbawm described tradition as amenable to invention, the constructed nature of western-European world views became apparent. This opened the possibility of describing alternative visions as equally valid and potentially as powerful over time. I appreciate that the idea of inventing tradition as a means of bolstering group solidarity is also applicable at different scales of social interaction. There is optimism inherent in the idea: people are creative and capable, historical actors can have agency. By way of contrast, the concept of hegemony strikes me as pessimistic, deterministic, and fatalistic.


*Written c. 2005 in preparation for PH.D. comp. exam; see “bibliography 2: knowing Social History; Field: Comparative Social History: select themes in consciousness and identity” this site.

[1] Raymond Williams cited in Ian McKay, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994), 39, defines tradition as involving: “an active and continuous process of selection and reselection, and to come to terms with tradition means coming to terms not with an ‘object’ but with valuations, selections, and omissions of other people.”

[2] See Bernard S. Cohn, “Representing Authority in Victorian England,” The Invention of Tradition, Eric Hobsbawm, and Terence Ranger, eds. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 173, who notes the ‘incompleteness and contradiction’ that confuse perceptions of past cultural contexts if records are read as transparent.

[3] For example see Thomas R. Bates, “Gramsci and the Theory of Hegemony,” Journal of the History of Ideas 36, no. 2 (Apr., Jun., 1975), 351-366; Melinda Muraugh, review of Hegemony and Revolution: A Study of Antonio Gramsci’s Political and Cultural Theory by Walter L. Adamson, The Journal of Economic History 41, no. 2 (Jun., 1981): 485-486; David L. Altheide, “Media Hegemony: A Failure of Perspective,” The Public Opinion Quarterly 48, no. 2 (summer, 1984):476-490; Thomas L. Haskell, “Convention and Hegemonic Interest in the Debate over Antislavery: A Reply to Davis and Ashworth,” The American Historical Review 92, no. 4 (Oct., 1987): 829-878; Nicholas Onuf, and Frank F. Klink, “Anarchy, Authority, Rule,” International Studies Quarterly 33 (1989): 149-173; Marian Friestad and Peter Wright, “The Persuasion Knowledge Model: How People Cope with Persuasion,” The Journal of Consumer Research 2, no. 1 (Jun., 1994): 1-31; John Deighton and Kent Grayson, “Marketing and Seduction: Building Exchange Relationships by Managing Social Consensus,” The Journal of Consumer Research 21, no. 4 (Mar., 1995): 660-676; Janet McIntosh, “Cognition and Power,” Paper delivered at the Society for Literature and Science Meetings, Pittsburg, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 1997, cached at < > 15 Aug. 2005; Thomas R. Haskell, “Responsibility, Convention, and the Role of Ideas in History,” Objectivity is Not Neutrality; Explanatory Schemes in History, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 280-306; Christopher J. Kollmeyer, “Explaining Consensual Domination: Moving Beyond the Concept of Hegemony,” (forthcoming) Beyond Resistance: The Future of Freedom (Hauppauge NY.: Nova Science Publishers, 2005), cached at <;, 1-30.

[4] Eric Hobsbawm, “Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” in  The Invention of Tradition Eric Hobsbawm, and Terence Ranger, eds (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1.

[5] Ibid., 3. Note that Hobsbawm’s use of the word convention, differs significantly from Thomas Haskill’s usage.

[6] Ibid., 3 9, 13; see also Eric Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914,” Invention of Tradition, 263, 273, 293. Hugh Trevor Roper, “The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland,” Invention of Tradition, 15-41, adheres to the top down model and the duplicity of the masses, paying little attention to the conflict between Scotland and England that made the idea of asserting identity and proclaiming difference in symbolic and tangible ways attractive. Prys Morgan, “From a Death to a View: The Hunt for the Welsh Past in the Romantic Period,” Invention of Tradition, 43-100, also reads transmission as top down but gives enough evidence that the assumption of a credulous mass might be overturned. David Cannadine, “The Context, Performance and Meaning of Ritual: The British Monarchy and the ‘Invention of Tradition,” Invention of Tradition, 121, notes that the audience must be differentiated as to preferences and appropriately appealed to.

[7] Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions,” 263-307.

[8] Ibid., see also 307.

[9] See Cannadine, “Context, Performance and Meaning,” 122, 125, 140.

[10] Terence Ranger, “The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa,” in Invention of  Tradition, 211.

[11] Ibid., 250, 251.

[12] See Eva Mackey, The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada. (New York: Routledge, 1999); Thomas Spear, “neo-Traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British Colonial Africa,” Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003): 3-27.

[13] Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions,” 268-269, 280, 300, 307; Ranger, “Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa,” 248, 249, notes that the flexibility extends to professing identity.

[14] Hobsbawm, “Introduction,” 12; also Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions,” 267; see also Morgan, “From a Death to a View,” and references to crises associated with marked discontinuity 62, 68, 93, 99, and the invention of tradition as a response.

[15] Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions,” 307. Morgan, “From a Death to a View,” suggests that through inventing tradition, groups may use the past to describe their wants in the present. It becomes apparent that critical historiography can act as a check on tradition as creative invention. Cannadine, “Context, Performance, and Meaning,”161, notes that traditions appeal because they project stability and continuity in unstable changing contexts.

[16] Cannadine “Context, Performance and meaning of Ritual,”104-106, 128.

[17] Gregory S. Kealey, and Bryan D. Palmer, Dreaming of what might be: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880-1900 (Toronto: New Hogstown Press,1987), 153, 386-387.

[18] Ibid., 392.

[19] Ibid., 12.

[20] Ibid., 33, 81, 233, 394.

[21] Ibid., 17, 294, 303, 382, 391.

[22] Ibid., 8, 9, 96: the invented tradition was meant to “preserve the broad principle of harmonious interworking of all interests” and its practitioners knew they were contesting the “preservation of individual interest.”

[23] Ibid., 277.

[24] Ibid., 55, 294, 23. 227: Kealey and Palmer explain that alternate hegemony is the creation by subordinate class of a new expression, backed by a new vision of “social, economic, political, and cultural values.” If the alternate hegemony is successful in displacing the old vision, these values would be “expressed through control of the state apparatus, the educational system, the majesty of the law and a wide range of formal institutions and informal sanctions.”

[25] Ibid., 279-280.

[26] Ibid., 327.

[27] Ibid., 280.

[28] Ibid., 22, 385: did Knights of Labour establish a “tradition of dissent” in Ontario or did they build on one imported from elsewhere? For example the idea of a ‘nation of producers’ had been popular enough in the 1850s and 1860s to give rise to a ‘common front’ and was ‘consolidated’ in the 1860s and 1870s. It too fell apart.

[29] Ibid., 293, 329, 383. 278-279: Kealey and Palmer only argue that there was a moment in time when an alternate hegemony was “in formation.” Evidence for its forming is presented as “activities and personalities” which “suggest a cultural undertaking of opposition” markedly different from what occurred in the 1870s (but see n. 28 above). 392: They claim the “producing classes, the personages, practices, and principles of the Knights of Labour stood as something of a stored, or accumulated, energy that was easily and productively channeled into political, social, and cultural activities,” but admit that how this was done is not known. What they show is a social complex with multiple interactions, intersections and collisions of interests and ambitions. The dynamic appears more accidental than organized as manipulations misfire as often as they hit their mark. Neither courting, nor holding to, any particular lowest common denominator social values-wise (such as ‘unity’ or ‘respect’) proves enough to guarantee outcomes.

[30] Ibid., 137, 144, 14, 104, 143-144, 110, 160, 173.

[31] See Ian McKay, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection inTwentieth-Century Nova Scotia (Montreal and Kingston: McGll-Queen’s University Press, 1994), 240, to compare for example the conditions, values and traditions associated with the invention of ‘Folk’ with those of the ‘Knights.’

[32] Ibid., 276, 296, 305.

[33] Ibid., 139, 217, 247.

[34] Ibid., xvi.

[35] Ibid., 144, also 151, 177, 227: McKay’s thesis regarding state involvement is put forward as: “State sponsorship of folklore provided a relatively painless and inexpensive means of legitimation: it suggested that the state apparatus was open to the humble as it simultaneously undercut the significance of class division.”

[36] Ibid., 242, 264, 171, 184.

[37] Ibid., 33-35, 154, 109, 144, 205.

[38] Ibid., 182.

[39] Ibid., 33, 36, 42, 218, 15.

[40] Ibid., 57, 105, 143.

[41] Ibid., 99, 101.

[42] Ibid., 31, 12, 154, 13.

[43] Ibid., 11, 15, 18, evidence of the influence of evolution as an idea is found as well in McKay’s need to explicitly discount it as relevant to discussions of cultural transmission.

[44] Ibid., 21, 39, 99, 105.

[45] Ibid., 226.

[46] Ibid., 126, also 156-157, 159.

[47] Ibid., 10, 17, 30, 31, 132, 133, 134, 136, McKay defines essentialism as: “a concept of reality as composed of the two levels of essence and existence, with essences as the final, perfect states towards which existants are striving or from which they have originated.”

[48] Ibid., 14, 107.

[49] Ibid., 13, 23, 39, 40.

[50] Ibid., 226, 272.

[51] Gerald Sider, Between History and Tomorrow: Making and Breaking Everyday Life in Rural Newfoundland (Peterborough, ON.: Broadview Press, c.2003), 62.

[52] Sean Cadigan, “Power and Agency in Newfoundland and Labrador’s History,” review of Between History and Tomorrow: Making and Breaking Everyday Life in Rural Newfoundland by Gerald Sider, and The Rule of the Admirals: Law, Custom and Naval Government in Newfoundland 1699–1832 by Jerry Bannister, Labour/Le Travail 54 (fall, 2004), cached at <;, supplies an informed and informative critique.

[53] Sider, Between History and Tomorrow, 89, 85, 86 209, 90, 91, 112, 88, 177, 178, 303, 96. The problem may have arisen as a result of Sider’s fashioning a definition of tradition out of an embellishment on Hobsbawm’s description of invented tradition.

[54] Ibid., 28-29, 323-324.

[55] Vicki Howard, “A ‘Real Man’s Ring’: Gender and the Invention of Tradition,” Journal of Social History 36, no. 4 (2003): 837.

[56] See Harold D. Lasswell and Abraham Kaplan, Power and Society: A Framework for Political Inquiry (new Haven; Yale University Press, 1950), 111-114; E. Jerome McCarthy, Stanley J. Shapiro, William D. Perrault, Basic Marketing 6th Canadian ed. (Boston: Richard Irwin, 1992), 197, 199;  Steven F. Davis, Joseph J. Palladino, Psychology 2d ed. (Upper Saddle River NJ.: Prentice-Hall, 1997); James M. Henslin, Dan Glenday, Ann Duffy and Norene Pupo, Sociology: a down-to-earth approach 2d Canadian ed. (Toronto: Peterson Education Canada, 2001), 440.

[57] Howard, “Real Man’s Ring,” 852.

[58] Thomas Spear, “neo-Traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British Colonial Africa,” Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003): 3.

[59] Ibid., 4.

[60] Ibid., 24-25.

[61] Ibid., 26.


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Notes for Comparative Social History Reading List: George Lipsitz

Comment* on George Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight: Labour and Culture in the 1940s (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994)

George Lipsitz looks at shop floor activism, working class culture, and a wave of strikes that spread across the United States after the Second World War. Because his culturalist approach to examining ‘working class expression’ during the 1940s owes much to discursive practice, he relies more on “poetic” logic (as, for example, outlined by Roman Jacobson), than historiographical logic (as, for example, outlined by E.P. Thompson).[1] Consequently his work is not likely to meet criteria set out by historians with ‘traditional’ as opposed to high-modernist expectations.[2] Undertaking a fair critique of Lipsitz’s book —one that engages with it in culturalist terms—is, however, no easy task. Foremost, because culturalism comes in many and competing varieties, there is the problem of determining what form of cultural studies Lipsitz has adopted: by what rules of the game is he playing? Beyond crediting labour activist Stan Weir with explaining the concept of romanticism, and noting that “the methods I employ in this book in respect to popular culture” are ones he had used previously in Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture (1990), and derived from “the discussion of discursive transcoding in Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan, Camera Politica” (1988), he supplies few concrete clues.[3] According to Douglas Kellner, these clues must be followed and sorted if one is to adequately summarize or critique a book such as Lipsitz’s.[4] Kellner has noted that:

One of the hazards of cultural studies is the proclivity toward theoreticism, in which culture and society are reduced to discourse and in which one discourse is privileged above all others. This tendency leads to the problematic notion of a purely Baudrillardian, Foucaultian, Deleuzian, Habermasian, or (fill in the blanks) other form of cultural studies in which analysis is reduced to the problematics of the theorist in question. Of course, deploying any given theory in an imaginative way can yield novel and important insights. But reducing cultural studies to one theoretical problematic, or transcoding cultural studies into the language of a specific theory, can itself be highly destructive of the broader project.[5]

Thus it would not help the “multiperspectivist” ‘broader project’ to misapprehend what one of its practitioner/ contributors was doing/ saying, because “the results of such [cultural] studies need to be interpreted and contexualized within critical social theory to adequately delineate their meanings and effects.”[6] (All of which may be analogously decoded as: an expert knowledge of cricket does not fit a sportscaster to call play-by-play at a baseball game.)

Although I am far from certain of the exact “critical social theory” context Lipsitz must be interpreted within, I am willing to hazard the guess that, following Kellner, he seeks to:

utilize a synthesis of philosophy and critical social theory to develop a multiperspectivist approach which includes investigation of a broad expanse of artifacts, interrogating relationships within the three dimensions of: 1) the production and political economy of culture; 2) textual analysis and critique of its artifacts; and 3) study of audience reception and the uses of media/ cultural products.[7]

 Loosely, Liptsitz can be counted as Marxist. As far as his ‘politics’ with respect to Marxism go, he agrees with E.P. Thompson that class consciousness arises out of “organizational learning, social contestation, and political mobilization.”[8] As well he cites Stanley Aronowitz as an authoritative source for some data and to confirm that “collective understanding” arises out of contest and leads to cooperative efforts.[9] Lipsitz does not mention, but appears to owe much (at least by way of Kellner and Aronowitz), to the Marxist approach to cultural studies exemplified by the ‘Birmingham group’ in England, which included Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams.[10] They in turn were influenced by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci.[11] As well, though likewise not mentioned, it would be surprising if Lipsitz has not considered French writers such as Pierre Bourdieu and Michel de Certeau and prominent American culturalists such as Clifford Geertz (James Carey is mentioned). The British cultural-Marxists’ influence is visible in Lipsitz’s focus. The Birmingham group analyzed the reciprocal nature of representations and interpretations of ideologies of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality in cultural ‘texts’ (which include all forms of expression in all forms of media). They wanted to understand what working class consciousness was and why it appeared less than ‘revolutionary.’ They arrived at the conclusion (as did other schools and individual theorists analyzing other cultural settings), that mass media/ consumerist culture effectively enmeshed workers in the capitalist web. However, they found expressions of worker resistance in subcultures. These expressions took the form of dress, slang, music, etc., hence Lipsitz’s interest in zoot-suiters, jazzists, Hank Williams, and Marilyn Monroe.

In terms of methodology, Lipsitz appears to owe as much to the literary, textual, and cultural analysis undertaken by Northrop Frye, Hayden White, and Kenneth Burke—or, alternatively, his work appears to support their formulations/ hypotheses regarding the structure of discourse. Lipsitz adopts the assumption that society is a culturally interconnected whole and therefore one may select from among the artifacts generated within that whole during a given time to weave a description that tells a story about the people who fashioned those artifacts. The story he tells adheres to what might be characterized as a Marxist-inspired allegory. Following Northrop Frye, of the available archetypes of literature, Lipsitz demonstrates a concern with “the hero’s power of action” common to fiction and/ or a non-fiction “pregeneric plot structure” that contains elements of “primal myths.” There are hints of ‘comedy’ in that there is a quasi- “reconciliation of the protagonist with his community at the end.” But, there are as well hints of: ‘romance,’ in that the search for group consciousness “chronicles what seems like a knight’s quest”; ‘tragedy’ in that Lipsitz “shows us a hero’s separation from his society”; and even ‘irony/ satire,’ which “gives us the everyday difficulties and dissembling of life.”[12] The ‘hero’ in Lipsitz’s account is of the “low mimetic mode,” common to comedy and realistic fiction, whereby working class persons are “no better than the rest of us.” Such heroes typically elicit sympathy from the audience/ reader as long as the story displays “the canons of probability that we use in ordinary experience.”[13] As far as I can tell, Lipsitz’s text can be seen to be ordered tropologically. Following Hayden White, Lipsitz—in attempting to “structure the world and produce meaning for a chaotic reality” as well as to describe “the problem of freedom of moral choice”—moves, in poetic fashion, “from a metaphorical identification of units of experience, to their metonymic displacement, to a synecdochic representation of their part/ whole or genus/ species relations, to an ironic awareness of the disparity between what is stated and what is intended.”[14]

As for the “dramatistic” theory of Kenneth Burke: “a system of procedures based on five terms,” which when applied to discourse analysis, “can be used to investigate and to understand any human action,” Lipsitz uses: (1) act—what was done; (2) scene—where and when it was done; (3) agent—who did it; (4) agency—by what means; and (5)  purpose— why. All five terms also figure in Burkesian “ratios” or combinations such as “act-scene, act-agent, act-agency, act-purpose” etc.[15] Thus Lipsitz describes the protagonists (‘workers’) who in his view “demonstrated the “potential … to undermine hierarchy and exploitation”; who live in a time of ‘transformation’; and who encounter obstacles erected by antagonists (‘corporate-liberals’) intent on imposing a ‘world-view’ by “reconceptualizing business” and by supporting policies such as increased defense spending and deindustrialization. In the end, the workers, despite efforts worth celebrating and remembering, received economic concessions but did not achieve political democracy.[16]

Cultural/ poetic logic allows Lipsitz to assume both the interconnectedness of his elements and interconnectedness to his analysis. Therefore Lipsitz does not need to clarify where exactly the connections exist—that task is left to the reader, if they wish to undertake it. I do not. I find the vagueness of his formulation too daunting to sort out. I do not know, for example what is it about ‘work’ that separates Lipsitz’s ‘workers’ from ‘executives’ because he does not organize: full-time, part-time, casual, temporary, non-wage, wage, organized, unorganized, clerical, managerial, technical, consultant, and executive positions within the workforce in a way that indicates where, how (or, in some cases, if), the separation takes place. Nor does he explain where entertainers, as part of the entertainment industry, fit in. Lipsitz offers only that working-class people make their living by selling their labour power to someone in return for wages. They clearly are not the political-economic elite. The working-class people are vulnerable to subordination on the basis of class, race, and gender (which are inextricably linked categories of exclusion). They are not “better” people than others, but they do have aspirations to become less vulnerable to the vagaries of life within a capitalist system, which they struggle to realize through agitating/ calling for social change as they “experience … being in transit” through it. But, in keeping with the tropisms outlined above, political struggle is “complicated and unpredictable” and victory tends to go to those with “money and power.” Lipsitz, in accepting the overweening power of the capitalist/ corporate-liberal project, does not bother to clarify when in time or where in conceptual space “working class public culture” becomes middle-class consumerism or a site of upper-class dilettantism.[17] That I wish he had bothered to do so says more about me than about Lipsitz or his text, according to poetic logic.

If one of the goals of culturalist approaches is that of “breaking, revising or weakening … dominant codes” of description, then there are some codes that, I would argue, Lipsitz carries forward rather that exposes.[18] For example his presentation of class, race, and gender is conventional among social historians who neglect such categories as age, transience, religious denomination, and regional affiliation (he does allude to intelligence).[19] Likewise, Lipsitz does not counter a conventional view that women ‘controlled’ norms regarding masculinity and ‘civilized’ behavior, even though he describes women as behaving “freely” when “unsupervised” by men, which would seem to suggest that men as often ‘controlled’ norms of female behavior.[20] Nor does Lipsitz challenge conventional representations of workers as peculiarly susceptible to ‘exploitation.’ He finds that managers who agree with racist workers ‘exploit’ their hatred, rather than suggesting that the workers ‘exploited’ (or cooperated with) management racists in order to take advantage of an opportunity to express racism in a legitimated chorus.[21]

Following Kellner, there is a question that might be expected of a historiographical critique such as mine. If, in culturalist historiography, “One can obviously not deploy the full range of methods and perspectives … [of cultural studies] in each distinctive project that one undertakes and the nature of particular projects will determine what perspectives are most productive,” then I should offer an opinion as to whether, as a culturalist, Lipsitz hit upon the “most productive” means of analyzing ‘working class expression’ in shop floor activism, working class culture, and a wave of strikes that spread across the United States after the Second World War.[22] I cannot do so. Because of a theoretically in-built resistance in Lipsitz’s account to critique from a traditional historiographical standpoint, and because my criticism is only one of an indeterminately multiple number of possibilities, I simply do not know how to arrive at such an opinion. I have no way of determining whether I have properly ‘translated’ his work—or how accurately he translated anyone else’s. I cannot know if I have adequately ‘discovered’ Lipsitz as an author. I will not even pretend to have “put [his work] into the context of a present historical moment and [tried] to use it for present needs” because, apparently, whether I have or not is up to the reader of my text (you, reading this one online, here/ where you are) to translate and decode and decide.[23] I suppose if Lipsitz likes what he has produced, and especially if somebody else likes it, then from a culturalist standpoint, he has been relatively successful. I have no idea how an absolute valuation capable of distinguishing a ‘most’ productive from a ‘least’ productive approach is to be arrived at within the culturalist perspectives. To my knowledge, when using poetic logic, resort to dichotomies that suggest one history may be more valid than another is disallowed. ‘Validity’ and ‘invalidity’ are meaningless terms, because, as Hayden White observed: “reason [is] not set over against imagination as the basis of truth against the basis of error.” [24] In the words of Bryan D. Palmer, this may be “a rather hard sell” for many historians—historical materialist and otherwise.[25]


*Written c. 2005 in preparation for PH.D. comp. exam; see “bibliography 2: knowing Social History; Field: Comparative Social History: select themes in consciousness and identity” this site.

[1] Roman Jacobson, quoted in Hayden White, “New Historicism: A Comment,” in The New Historicism, ed. H. Aram Vesser (New York.: Routledge, 1989), 300, also 295, 301. Jacobson observes: “The poetic function [of language] projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection … to the axis of combination.” White explains that this allows the author to determine a sequence in narrative capable of “breaking, revising or weakening … dominant codes” of description that legitimate or sustain oppressive cultural ‘myths.’

For additional descriptions of the ‘poetic’ indicative of the logic at work in literary approaches, see Frank J. D’Angelo, “Tropics of Arrangement: A Theory of Dispositio,” JAC 10.0 (1990) online journal, available at Articles/7.htm; and Pauline Vaillancourt Rosenau, “Into the Fray … Substance of a Post-Modern Social Science,” Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions (Princeton NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1992), 3-11, 14-17. For a response to the ‘poetic,’ that includes a description of its logic, see Ewa Domanska, “Hayden White: Beyond Irony,” History and Theory 37, no. 2 (May, 1998): 173-181.

E.P. Thompson, “The Poverty of Theory or An Orrery of Errors (1978),” The Poverty of Theory & Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978), 37-50, explains “By ‘historical logic’ I mean a logical method of enquiry appropriate to historical materials, designed as far as possible to test hypotheses as to structure, causation, etc., and to eliminate self-confirming procedures (‘instances’, ‘illustrations’). The disciplined historical discourse of the proof consists in a dialogue between concept and evidence, a dialogue conducted by successive hypotheses, on the one hand, and empirical research on the other. The interrogator is historical logic; the interrogative a hypothesis (for example, as to the way in which different phenomena acted upon each other); the respondent is the evidence, with its determinate properties.”

For additional descriptions of historical logic, see Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff, The Modern Researcher, rev. ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), 19-25, 58-62, 238-246; and Adrian Wilson, “Foundations of an integrated historiography,” in Rethinking social history: English Society 1570-1920 and its interpretation, ed. Adrian Wilson (New York: Manchester University Press, 1993), 293-335.

[2] For example, James C. Foster, review of Rainbow at Midnight: Labour and Culture in the 1940s, by George Lipsitz, The American Historical Review 87, no. 4 (Oct., 1982): 1196, criticizes Lipsitz for his “narrow” approach and the “narrowness of his research base and the inaccuracies of some of his generalizations.”

[3] Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, 15 n. 8, 65 n. 1.

[4] Douglas Kellner, “Cultural Studies and Philosophy: An Intervention,” pdf http://www.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, 11.

[9] Ibid., 15 n. 4, 20, 41 n. 1, 252. Stanley Aronowitz, “The End of Political Economy,” Social Text 2 (summer, 1979), 3-52, adopts a post-modern stance with respect to social history.

[10] Norma Schulman, “Conditions of their Own Making: An Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham,” Canadian Journal of Communications 18, no. 1 (1993), available at

[11] Graeme Turner, British Cultural Studies: An Introduction, 2d ed. (New York: Routledge, 1990). Lipsitz only mentions Barthes.

[12] Mark Hamilton “Northrop Frye goes to the Movies,” Ph. D. diss. (Florida State University, College of Arts and Sciences, 2003), pdf,d.cWw&cad=rja.

[13] John Reilly, review, Anatomy of Criticism, archived at

[14] Domanska, “Hayden White,” 174, also 175, 176; D’Angelo, “Tropics of Arrangement.”

[15] D’Angelo, “Tropics of Arrangement.”

[16] Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, 10, 5, 64, 94, 7, 19, 3, 2.

[17] Ibid., 12, 48, 38, 9, 11-12, 40; also 108, 255-256. Bryan D. Palmer, review of Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism, and the Poetics of Place, by George Lipsitz , The Journal of American History 85, no. 4 (Mar., 1999): 1668-1669, voices a similar dissatisfaction with Lipsitz’s approach in another text. Palmer could not  find “where and how” Lipsitz’s resolute respectfulness “of the creative capacities of artists and audiences” and their experience of oppression, and his belief in “the powerfully liberating potential” of ordinary but oppressed people, connected in any telling way to show that “this current of music-driven revolutionary negotiation transforms itself into the socioeconomic project of historic transformation.”

[18] See n. 1 above.

[19] Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midight, 40, 48.

[20] Ibid., 54.

[21] Ibid., 75.

[22] Kellner, “Cultural Studies.”

[23] Domanska, “Hayden White,” 174.

[24] See Hayden White, cited in Ibid., 177.

[25] Palmer, review of Dangerous Crossroads, 1669.


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