The Politics of Provisions : Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition in England, c. 1550–1850 book cover
1st Edition

The Politics of Provisions
Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition in England, c. 1550–1850

ISBN 9781138257696
Published November 10, 2016 by Routledge
324 Pages

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Book Description

The elemental power of food politics has not been fully appraised. Food marketing and consumption were matters of politics as much as economics as England became a market society. In times of dearth, concatenations of food riots, repression, and relief created a maturing politics of provisions. Over three centuries, some eight hundred riots crackled in waves across England. Crowds seized wagons, attacked mills and granaries, and lowered prices in marketplaces or farmyards. Sometimes rioters parleyed with magistrates. More often both acted out a well-rehearsed political minuet that evolved from Tudor risings and state policies down to a complex culmination during the Napoleonic Wars. 'Provision politics' thus comprised both customary negotiations over scarcity and hunger, and 'negotiations' of the social vessel through the turbulence of dearth. Occasionally troops killed rioters, or judges condemned them to the gallows, but increasingly riots prompted wealthy citizens to procure relief supplies. In short, food riots worked: in a sense they were a first draft of the welfare state. This pioneering analysis connects a generation of social protest studies spawned by E.P. Thompson's essay on the 'moral economy' with new work on economic history and state formation. The dynamics of provision politics that emerged during England's social, economic and political transformations should furnish fruitful models for analyses of 'total war' and famine as well as broader transitions elsewhere in world history.

Table of Contents

Contents: 'We'd rather be hanged than starved!': the politics of provisions; The genesis of provision politics, 1580-1650; The recession of provision politics, 1650-1739; Bolting mills and marketplaces: the formative generation of provisions politics, 1740-1775; A viable, but doomed, provision politics, 1782-1812; The decadence of the politics of provisions, 1812-67; Conclusions: provision politics from the book of orders to World War One; Bibliography of works cited; Index.

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John Bohstedt is Professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA, and author of Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales, 1790-1810.


'Politics of Provisions is well-produced... It deserves to be widely read and known. It will be of particular interest to historians interested in the evolution of markets and the role of institutions and in the social and economic history of industrializing England.' EH.Net '... an outstanding book.' International Review of Social History 'The work has many strengths, not least the long perspective it provides on this important subject.' Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 'This is an outstanding volume, crucial for those with interests in crowd politics, protest, and the nature of the marketplace but also colleagues with interests in issues such as the nature of power, representation of the poor, and contemporary understandings of community... Bohstedt’s book is a triumph.' Journal of British Studies