Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century

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* Essay: E.P.Thompson. The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.




"Thompson identifies the many ways in which discontent and protest arose around the issue of food prices as the market economy came to displace the ‘moral economy’, one which was not based on the ‘invisible hand’ of supply and demand, or the individual pursuit of profits. What is significant about Thompson’s analysis is the way in which he returns agency and thought to the ‘riotous crowd’. Not yet a ‘political’ subject with a clear program for change the people he describes are still capable of resistance and self-organization. These nascent movements emerge sporadically and ambiguously from different ways of valuing and knowing the world.

Attending to these ‘un-neat’ forms of expression and organization is an important task.

He writes in the introduction:

- “We know all about the delicate tissue of social norms and reciprocities which regulates the life of Trobriand islanders, and the psychic energies involved in the cargo cults of Melanesia; but at some point this infinitely-complex social creature, Melanesian man, becomes (in our histories) the eighteenth-century English collier who claps his hand spasmodically upon his stomach, and responds to elementary economic stimuli.” (