Luddism

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Luddism, Incendiarism, and the Defence of Rural „Task–scapes‟ in 1812 Attacking property was one of the most common forms of expressing a grievance duringthe eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Arson in particular crossed the permeableboundary between person vengeance and collective action against an individual or groupperceived to have transgressed community norms or expectations. 1

Attacking machinery,either by fire or by force, also featured within the varied repertoire of methods of intimidation, protest, and resistance in the eighteenth century. James Hargreaves‟ firstspinning jenny was forcibly dismantled in 1767; in 1779, cotton weavers demolishedcarding engines around Blackburn and Richard Arkwright‟s water frames at Chorley;machine breaking flared up in parts of Lancashire, the West Country, and the Midlandsin 1780 and again in 1792. 2

The development of „Luddism‟ in 1811–
12 has, however,overshadowed these previous outbreaks of machine –
breaking, and of other forms of destruction of property more generally. The intensity of Luddism, its geographical spread,and the panicked if not severe response of the authorities, gave the agitation of 1811 –

12 apeculiarly compelling character and legacy. Luddism was unique in its adoption of the
2
mythical leader „General Ludd‟ as its moniker, as I have shown elsewhere. 3
However, thetactics of Luddism in effect comprised of a more extreme version of more generalpopular resistance against changes in both industry and agriculture in northern Englandfrom the late eighteenth century onwards. Attacks on machinery and other forms of property did not emerge out of nothing or nowhere in 1812, but reflected customarytactics used in the new circumstances of a common fear of national rebellion.This article argues that Luddism can only be understood within longer and deeperframeworks of social tensions and popular resistance in particular localities. Crucial tothis understanding is an awareness of ancillary...
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