Social History and Its Discontents: Gareth Stedman Jones and the Politics of Language
This paper queries the mounting tide of discontent with social analysis embodied in British history’s recent ’linguistic turn’. Using the trajectory of Gareth Stedman Jones’s work as a basis for discussion, the authors compare the treatment of politics within both linguistic and social historical frameworks. They argue that the privileging of discourse or language in the work of Stedman Jones and others paradoxically undermines their revisionist aim to restore ’the political’ from the socio-economic reductionisms of earlier historical enquiry. It will be suggested that the revisionists’ substitution of language for social position as the ’prefigurative’ and ’nonreferential’ source of subjective identity and political affiliation effectively precludes the possibility of politics understood as a contingent and negotiated process. To the contrary, it is precisely the referential and metaphorical character of language properly understood which both enables and constrains that human agency on which political mobilization depends.