Streetlife in Late Victorian London : The Constable and the Crowd

Sammanfattning: This study examines the streetlife of London at the end of the nineteenth century from the perspective of behaviour and practice. In reaction to the large number of works on the Victorian city based on a study of literary sources, this thesis takes the approach of analysing social interaction in the street. The focus of the book is the relationship between police constables and civilians in the street, looking at how these two parties influenced each other. The analyses are inspired by the work of microsociology carried out in the footsteps of Erving Goffman, and the outline of the book follows the keywords of Goffman’s theories. The book demonstrates how former conclusions concerning the disciplining power of the modern police force have been overestimated. With a focus on the constable, lowest in the police hierarchy, we acquire a picture where the policeman is a part of the cultures of interaction present among the other people who use the street in their daily lives. The policeman also becomes the gateway into a study of other categories of people in the street, whose behaviour is examined from aspects commonly connected to the development of the modern city; the separation of public and private spheres, the change of the street from a space intended for pedestrians to one intended for vehicles, the increased conformity of dress and the civilising of manners. The findings of the study indicate that streetlife rested on the correlation of conflicting norms of behaviour, one restrained and courteous, and well studied as expressed in etiquette manuals or among the literate classes, and one outgoing and uproarious, consciously defiant of the discourse of order and civility. The latter norm has been especially unexplored by historians, and in those few studies that acknowledge it, the border between the norms is consistent with the border between the working and middle and upper classes. This book proposes, instead, that the relation between the various modes of behaviour were fluent, constituting roles that could be assumed depending on the situation. Further conclusions concern a comprehension of the street as a playing field rather than as a route, the inherently performative nature of intimate interaction in the street, and the conveying of collective affinities as connected to the anonymous crowd rather than a distinct class or identity. These observations are interpreted as signs of an adjustment to the emerging modern city which is based more on aspects like immobility, playfulness and mischief than commonly recognised. The book encourages a view on city life that takes into consideration the situational and everyday as a way of reaching a deeper understanding of urbanism.

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