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A Cultural History of the British CensusConclusion

A Cultural History of the British Census: Conclusion [By the 1860s, the census had been transformed from a purely government project to a public and national one. Its transformation happened in dialogue and in parallel with the rapid changes arising from industrialization and other forces, and it was therefore both the society and the census itself that looked very different by the middle of the century. It may seem paradoxical that the anticensus writers whom I discussed in the last chapter were worried about the census’s inability to describe individuals, while, as I have suggested, the census after 1841 focused primarily on individuals. But the process of interpreting and abstracting the census results made it clear that individuals were important not as individuals but as members of aggregates, both national and subnational. The shift whereby the individual replaced the local community, yet was then made anonymous and abstract as a member of various other groups, is symbolic of the great changes that British society underwent during the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1801, many people envisioned their country as one of geographically defined local communities, even if they were also aware of hierarchical estates or groups that crossed physical boundaries. By the 1850s, in a society that was more urban, more mobile, more politically represented, and more global in its outlook, individuals could see themselves and others as members of groups that were not geographically defined, even if they also continued to hold strong local or regional identities. The process whereby individuals were abstracted into groups could be alienating and intrusive, but people also embraced the census precisely because it could help them find others like themselves. The paradox was true not only of the census but also of industrial society more broadly. It could be alienating and impersonal, but it could also create new solidarities.] http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png

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Publisher
Palgrave Macmillan US
Copyright
© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 2011
ISBN
978-1-349-29824-2
Pages
203 –206
DOI
10.1057/9780230337602_9
Publisher site
See Chapter on Publisher Site

Abstract

[By the 1860s, the census had been transformed from a purely government project to a public and national one. Its transformation happened in dialogue and in parallel with the rapid changes arising from industrialization and other forces, and it was therefore both the society and the census itself that looked very different by the middle of the century. It may seem paradoxical that the anticensus writers whom I discussed in the last chapter were worried about the census’s inability to describe individuals, while, as I have suggested, the census after 1841 focused primarily on individuals. But the process of interpreting and abstracting the census results made it clear that individuals were important not as individuals but as members of aggregates, both national and subnational. The shift whereby the individual replaced the local community, yet was then made anonymous and abstract as a member of various other groups, is symbolic of the great changes that British society underwent during the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1801, many people envisioned their country as one of geographically defined local communities, even if they were also aware of hierarchical estates or groups that crossed physical boundaries. By the 1850s, in a society that was more urban, more mobile, more politically represented, and more global in its outlook, individuals could see themselves and others as members of groups that were not geographically defined, even if they also continued to hold strong local or regional identities. The process whereby individuals were abstracted into groups could be alienating and intrusive, but people also embraced the census precisely because it could help them find others like themselves. The paradox was true not only of the census but also of industrial society more broadly. It could be alienating and impersonal, but it could also create new solidarities.]

Published: Nov 15, 2015

Keywords: Nineteenth Century; Cultural History; British Society; Regional Identity; Century Discussion

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