The Stonemasons of Creuse in Nineteenth-Century Paris.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Rowe, Steven E.|
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 3|
|Topic:||NamedWork: The Stonemasons of Creuse in Nineteenth-Century Paris (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Harison, Casey|
The Stonemasons of Creuse in Nineteenth-Century Paris. By Casey
Harison (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008. 331 pp. $65.00).
Casey Harison's study of the migrant stonemasons from central France who were responsible for much of the construction of Paris in the nineteenth century fills a significant gap in the historiography of nineteenth-century France. While labor historians have concentrated on problems of industrialization, politics, and class formation, the stonemasons and other members of the building trades have suffered from a lack of attention, most likely due to their perceived inability to fit into existing problematics. As Harison points out, this could be partly the result of the enduring nineteenth-century image of the migrant stonemasons as backward peasants out of touch with French modernity, despite working at the very heart of modernity - the construction of Paris. Harison's book is, therefore, a corrective to this oversight, in particular because it demonstrates the significance of the stonemasons' experiences for understanding labor and politics in nineteenth-century Paris.
The seasonal migration of young men from the provinces of Limousin and Marche to work in the building trades in France's cities, particularly Paris, was well established by the 17th and 18th centuries. However, it was in the 19th century that increasingly large numbers of migrant laborers arrived looking for work in the expanding construction industry in the nation's capital. Stonemasons from the department of the Creuse (formerly part of the province of Limousin) formed the largest migrant community in Paris. They resided in the overcrowded boarding houses of the city's center and gathered each morning looking for work in an open-air hiring market in the Place de Greve, located in front of Paris's town hall (the Hotel de Ville). By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the stonemasons had been largely displaced from the city center and the hiring market at the Place de Greve no longer existed. This was somewhat ironically the result of their own labor in the reconstruction of Paris under Baron Haussmann, which made Paris into the city of broad boulevards we know today.
Harison's analysis focuses on the intersections of labor practices, place, and rebellion that defined the migrant stonemasons' lives in Paris. With their residence and hiring located in central Paris, Harison demonstrates the significance of this space for defining the masons' experiences and others' perception of them. Harison ties the hiring market at the Place de Greve to the development of laissez-faire capitalism following the French Revolution, particularly the practice of marchandage, a form of subcontracting that was frequently the subject of criticism by the stonemasons and other workers. By examining this connection between place and laissez-faire labor practices, Harison demonstrates the centrality of the stonemasons' experiences for understanding the development of laissez-faire practices that increasingly dominated French trades in the wake of the Revolution's elimination of guilds and journeymen's associations.
Harison further connects the stonemasons' location in central Paris to their contentious relationship with the police. His ultimate goal is to explain why so many stonemasons were arrested at such high rates following major periods of rebellion. He argues that the stonemasons' association with the Place de Greve and its location immediately in front of the Hotel de Ville made them the subject of intensive police surveillance throughout the 19th century. Drawing on the work of Charles Tilly and others, Harison seeks to demonstrate the development of a "repertoire of contention," but he also argues that this contentious relationship must be seen as a result of the creation of a "repertoire of repression" by the police themselves.
This analysis of the contentious relationship between the stonemasons and the police is the strongest part of Harison's book. In chapters 4-6, Harison examines this evolving contentious relationship during the July Monarchy (1830-1848), following the 1848 Revolution, and in the aftermath of the Paris Commune of 1871. Harison begins his analysis of police surveillance by examining police tactics and images of the masons contained in the daily reports of the bulletins de Paris. Harison then does an impressive job of analyzing a wide array of arrest and conviction records to locate the stonemasons from the Creuse in nineteenth-century rebellions. What makes this analysis particularly impressive is that no single group of records clearly indicated both trade and origin of people arrested or convicted following rebellions, so Harison pulls together numerous sets of data to make a convincing case that Creusois stonemasons were arrested following these rebellions in numbers that exceeded most other groups, as well as their own likely participation in the rebellions.
Harison's book is less effective in his discussion of the stonemasons' experiences living and working in central Paris, and this is largely a matter of organization. Harison ostensibly divides the first two chapters of the book between analyzing changes in labor and the history of marchandage from the 18th to 19th centuries (chapter 1) and the significance of place for defining the stonemasons' lives (chapter 2). This organization could be effective if Harison had maintained it, but each chapter includes several sections that cover the other chapter's main topics. This makes Harison's analysis less effective and more difficult to follow than it could have been. Along similar lines, Harison's third chapter focusing exclusively on the life of the stonemason Martin Nadaud seems unnecessary, since Nadaud's experiences are included in many of the other chapters in the book. The separate chapter on Nadaud interrupts the flow of Harison's argument, and hinders him from making a strong connection between his analysis of place and the development of the contentious relationship between the masons and the police.
Ultimately, Harison's book presents an important analysis of a group of workers whose experiences were closely tied to major developments in nineteenth-century Paris. His synthesis of the different dimensions of the Creusois stonemasons' experiences suffers somewhat due to some problems of organization, but that does not diminish the significance of Harison's work in uncovering the place of these migrant workers in France's changing economic and political environment during the nineteenth century.
Steven E. Rowe
Chicago State University
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