Work and Revolution in France is particularly appropriate for students of French history interested in the crucial revolutions that took place in 1789, 1830, and 1848. Sewell has reconstructed the artisans' world from the corporate communities of the old regime, through the revolutions in 1789 and 1830, to the socialist experiments of 1848. Recent research has revealed that the most important class struggles took place in craft workshops, not in 'dark satanic mills'. Threatened less by the rise of the factory than by the disorder and competition of the emerging capitalist system, French craftsmen responded by forming labor organizations, mounting strikes, and eventually joining forces in a revolutionary socialist movement that aimed at ending the tyranny of the rich. In the 1830s and 1840s, workers combined the collectivism of the corporate guild tradition with the egalitarianism of the revolutionary tradition, producing a distinct artisan form of socialism and class consciousness that climaxed in the Parisian Revolution of 1848.
The book follows artisans into their everyday experience of work, fellowship, and struggles and places their history in the context of wider political, economic, and social developments. Sewell analyzes the 'language of labor' in the broadest sense, dealing not only with what the workers and others wrote and said about labor but with the whole range of institutional conventions, economic practices, social struggles, ritual gestures, customs, and actions that gave the workers' world a comprehensive shape.
'This is one of the rare books that succeed in marrying ideas and events, respecting the autonomy of each, and examining their influence upon each other in a thoroughly convincing way. It's interest therefore transcends its immediate subject and it should appeal to anyone concerned about how things happen in history. At the same time it provides a lucid and original account of the evolution of the French urban worker artisan, through sans-culotte, to class-conscious proletarian ... It is an important book that students are going to need - and enjoy - for a long time to come.' Norman Hampson, Professor of History, University of York