These four articles revisit crucial concepts in the work of E.P. Thompson and the debates that follow him. Each looks forward to contemporary and future scholarship, and the real and potential relationship between historiography and social movements on the left. They reopen debates on moral economy, disputing how much of the working-class past is usable in the present. Particularly given the transformed nature of the state since the period of social transition in early modern England, this question seems urgent: can (arguably) backward-looking claims of traditional rights continue to serve to guide working-class resistance movements, given that they must invoke the powers of the modern state? Can ideas of class drawn from a period in which men were understood as workers and citizens, and women were not, be made useful in a different moment? Are there class formations possible under capitalism other than the bourgeois-proletarian antagonism to which we are accustomed? Do these challenges require a thorough rethinking of the relationship between such basic categories as law and political economy, class and gender? More recent social movements—indigenous, anticolonial, antiracist, feminist, and anti-war—might not have been recognized or countenanced by Thompson as “working class,” but might they be useful in conversation with the Thompsonian legacy of class analysis? Together, these papers push the boundaries of our inheritance from Thompson, and suggest ways in which new social and political contexts—new states, new movements, and a drastically changed global economy—can reanimate the political force of Thompson's work.
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