Theory and Society

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 123–142

Flows of capital and forms of industry in Europe, 1500–1900

  • Charles Tilly


An unwary traveler in Paris or London often straightens out the river in his imagination, and then makes terrible deductions about the shortest path from one place to another within the city. If he follows up those deductions without consulting a well-drawn map, he finds himself wandering, worn, and confused. Neither the Seine nor the Thames comes close to describing a straight line. Similarly, a straight-line model of industrialization is not merely inaccurate in itself; it leads to faulty, costly deductions about the likely consequences and correlates of the whole process. The Industrial Revolution model of industrialization follows a straight line from agriculture to handicraft to full-scale industry, with handicraft a weak anticipation of full-scale industry. That model not only exaggerates the role of technology and foreshortens the history of industrial production, but also - at least for the European experience - misstates the relationships between urban and rural capital and labor. The classic Marxist model, with its intermediate stage of Manufacture drawing heavily on rural labor, improves our understanding of the historical terrain by putting an appropriate bend in the river of industrialization. It also improves on the Industrial Revolution model by drawing attention to the accumulation and redeployment of capital. Yet the classic Marxist model, too, exaggerates the importance of technological change, and underestimates the interdependence of changes in city and country, of alterations in the organization of industry and agriculture.

The accumulating research organized - pro and con - around the idea of protoindustrialization points the way to an enriched understanding of the whole process of industrialization. It not only provides a clearer sense of the centrality and complexity of small-scale production, but also shifts our attention from technology to movements of capital. That is all to the good. It will not do, however, to construct a new linear model in which protoindustry (however well described) becomes the standard intermediate stage in a march from an agrarian world with a few urban outposts of craft production to an industrial world coupling large cities to “industrialized” agriculture. For one thing, as we have seen, most European areas of protoindustrial production entered the twentieth century more purely agricultural than they had been for centuries before, and with the family farm the dominant setting for agricultural production. For another, at every stage we witness transfers of capital simultaneously causing rises in the industrial activity of some regions and declines in the industrial activity of others. Our new models of such a process must not be linear, but dialectical.


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Copyright information

© Charles Tilly 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles Tilly
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Research on Social OrganizationUniversity of MichiganUSA

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