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21. Huw Beynon and industrial sociology


shutterstock_40203004minerHuw Beynon, the leading industrial sociologist of his generation in the UK,  was born and brought up in Ebbw Vale in South Wales. He came to Manchester in 1987 when he accepted the Chair in Sociology after teaching and researching at a number of universities including: Liverpool, Bristol, Durham and Southern Illinois in the US. He is well known for pioneering a form of sociology that explored the complex everyday experiences and practices of groups of  workers, always  carefully situated within their locality and their organizations, as well as within the broader political economy of their industry. This is well exemplified in his famous study, Working for Ford (2nd edition 1984 but originally published in 1972).

Whilst at  Manchester  Huw wrote, with Terry Austrin,  Masters and Servants, Class and Patronage in the Making of a Labour Organization and added to this title is  a crucial subtitle The Durham Miners and the English Political Tradition. This book, based on a lengthy research project whilst Huw was based in Durham, is one of the most ambitious works of historical sociology produced in Britain in the 20th Century. The book shows in rich detail the way in which the emergence of mining as an industry and the miners own union organization in the Durham coalfield in the 19th Century was powerfully shaped by a  very distinctive pattern of paternalist  class relations.

This took the form of an aristocratic landowning and mine owning class which exercised power and control via the forms of bonded labour that tied workers to them as servants on the basis of an annual bond- a form that existed until as late as 1872. The book points to the impact that the struggle against and around these forms of paternalist control had in  shaping many aspects of mining as more than a work relation but as key elements of the forms of communal life in the mining villages and the union lodges, all characterized by struggles, hardship, conflict but also celebration (on the famous Durham Miners Gala see Chapter 9 but also Beynon and Austrin 1989 below). The book presents a powerful case for the significance of local and regional historical sociology; for a key theme of the book is the relation between the union as a local and regional power and its significance for national politics and of its success in shaping the politics of  County Durham  for most of the 20th Century as well as key aspects of national Labour Party politics (see Beynon and Austrin 2014)

Further reading

The Iconography of the Durham Miners Gala (1989) Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol 2, No 1 March, by Huw Beynon and Terry Austrin.

‘The Performance of Power: Sam Watson a Miners’ Leader on Many Stages’ (2014) Journal of Historical Sociology, Article first published online: 6 MAR 2014, by Huw Beynon and Terry Austrin.


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