Political Identities: The Miners of the Ruhr and South Wales, 1890-1926

  • Leighton James

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The thesis compares the discursive practices of the trade unions and political parties in the Ruhr and South Wales from 1890 to 1926. It begins from the hypothesis that generally, developments in South Wales were characterised by a process of homogenisation. On the other hand, developments in the Ruhr were characterised by increasing fragmentation.

    In order to integrate the historiographies of the two coalfields, this work seeks to account for the different trajectories of union and political development using a tripartite approach. This framework depends on the interrelated concepts of lifeworld, constructed identity and civil society. The use of Jiirgen Habermas's concept of lifeworld allows a synthesis of milieux, structural factors and discourse. The lifeworld provides the backdrop against which the activists constructed the identities of their respective organisations. A more synchronous lifeworld in South Wales encouraged a more encompassing, inclusive discourse. The fragmentation of the lifeworld of the Ruhr miners into several milieux or sub-cultures, however, contributed to the development of more particularist discourses and sectionalist identities. These differences were encouraged by the nature of civil society in the two regions. German civil society was comparatively more rigid and segmented than its British counterpart. Trade unions and political parties in the Ruhr desired harmony and were intolerant of dissent. This stymied pluralist debate and encouraged rivals to break away to form their own associations, rather than work from within. In South Wales, by contrast, pluralist debate was tolerated and even encouraged. This helped contain tendencies that could have otherwise led to splinter groups.

    Lifeworld and civil society provided the context in which the organisations sought to create their identities. In the Ruhr these identities were more doctrinal than those in South Wales and were often defined as much by what they were not as what they were. This meant that the discursive practices of the unions and parties served to reinforce social divisions and one ideal of the miner was placed in juxtaposition with another. In South Wales, on the other hand, the identity created was more inclusive. There the discursive dichotomy centred on labour vs. capital. This allowed the creation of a more encompassing identity, reinforcing the comparatively cohesive nature of the Welsh mining communities.
    Date of AwardJun 2004
    Original languageEnglish


    • Coal miners
    • Political activity
    • Wales, South.
    • Ruhr

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