David Englander, Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain : From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914
David Englander, Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain : From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914 (Longman, Harlow, 1998), ISBN 0 582 31554 9.
1This book, the latest in the Seminar Studies in History published by Longman mainly for students, provides a concise introduction to the enormous historical literature on Poor Law policy during the long nineteenth century. The book, which includes 92 pages of text, a bibliography, selected key documents and other supporting materials, focusses on three main themes : the evolution of Poor Law policy, in England, Wales and (notably) Scotland ; the nature of the workhouse institutional regime ; and the place of debates over the Poor Law in the broader history of social inquiry. As one would expect, David Englander draws extensively on the best-known works in the field of Poor Law history, as well as his own expertise on Charles Booth's social survey of the London poor. While Englander's summaries of the literature are generally judicious and well-crafted, his arguments are not uncon-tentious : for example, he claims that the 1834 Poor Law reform was 'first and foremost an economy measure' (p. 89), though Peter Dunkley and others have argued that the timing and the character of the 1834 reform were shaped decisively by social and political considerations. Also, the common assumption that the 1834 reformers upheld the notion of a 'right' to poor relief goes unchallenged here, when it might instead be argued that the whole tenor of the Benthamite project was set against notions of 'rights' : what was asserted in the new Poor Law was, as Georg Simmel once pointed out, the duty of the state to relieve pauperism, not the 'right' of paupers to relief. A semantic distinction, perhaps : but one which marks an important feature of British political culture in this period.
2In such a brief book, it is to be expected than some subjects receive more attention than others : for example, the question of able-bodied pauperism and unemployment is addressed at much greater length than the treatment of pauper children, widows or the insane. The two leading characters in Englander's story – Chadwick and Booth – are also treated rather unequally, the former being cast as more of less the villain of the piece, the latter almost the hero. The book concludes with a useful re-assessment of the role of the Fabian historians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, in shaping twentieth-century Poor Law historiography, followed by a distinctly sceptical account of recent work on ideas of social discipline in the workhouse context. (It is surely self-evident that the debate over the Poor Law was precisely about 'social control', in one sense or another : though the term is inadequate as an explanation, it describes rather effectively the context in which Poor Law debates took place). Overall, the book is a useful resource for teachers of British social history. Two quibbles, which might easily be remedied in a second edition : firstly, there is virtually no comparative material on the relief of poverty or debates over social policy elsewhere in Europe or America, when we know that developments elsewhere were closely watched by generations of social reformers, from Chadwick to Booth. Secondly, the quality of the writing is not matched by any attempt to consider visual representations of Poor Law data, workhouse design or the iconography of pauperism : the inclusion of maps, plans, photographs, caricatures, engravings or other kinds of visual imagery would greatly enhance the value and appeal of this book.
Pour citer cet article
Felix Driver, « David Englander, Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain : From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914 », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, Vol. 3, n°2 | 1999, 116-117.
Felix Driver, « David Englander, Poverty and Poor Law Reform in Britain : From Chadwick to Booth, 1834-1914 », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [En ligne], Vol. 3, n°2 | 1999, mis en ligne le 03 avril 2009, consulté le 30 mars 2017. URL : http://chs.revues.org/916Haut de page
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