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Type: Journal article
Title: Global factory and local field: Convergence and divergence in the international cane-sugar industry, 1850-1940
Author: Bosma, U.
Knight, G.
Citation: International Review of Social History, 2004; 49(1):1-25
Publisher: Cambridge Univ Press
Issue Date: 2004
ISSN: 0020-8590
Statement of
Ulbe Bosma and Roger Knight
Abstract: Technological convergence in the international sugar economy began in the 1830s and was substantially complete by the outbreak of World War I in 1914. By the end of the nineteenth century, the industrialized sugar factory was a global phenomenon: like the steamship and the railway engine (to which key aspects of its innards were closely related). We will argue that the single most important fact about nineteenth-century sugar industries was the degree of technological convergence that came to characterize their manufacturing sectors, regardless of the type of labour involved. A revisiting of the literature of the past twenty-five years, both in the New and Old Worlds, suggests that historians have yet fully to come to terms with the global character of this convergence and with the question of why convergence in the factory had no parallel in the field, where there continued to be a striking global divergence between the means and modes by which the industry was supplied with raw material. This problem in the recent historiography of the subject also highlights issues relating to the "proletarianization" of labour and the assumption that industrial capitalist modernity was inextricably associated with the development of "free labour". More specifically, it draws attention to major flaws in the terms of reference of the now classic debate about the nexus between technological change and the predominant forms of labour in the Caribbean production area. In so doing, it underlines the need for a global rather than simply regional approach to the dynamics of change in the international sugar industry of the late colonial era. The latter part of our paper outlines the broad historical parameters of this divergence in the cane field, and suggests the need for exploring the political economies surrounding the sugar producing areas and their mechanisms of ethnic segmentation of the labour force in particular.
Rights: © 2004 Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis
RMID: 0020040417
DOI: 10.1017/S0020859003001342
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