Research

My research attempts to understand the ways in which rapid capitalist change impacts upon both state, society and human/non-human relations. Focused upon the period c.1720-1850, this research fuses political economic models for understanding social change with more recent social theoretical advances. Capitalism is thus understood not as some monolithic entity but rather as something that has always been negotiated, resisted and remoulded by all actants (both human and non-human). The main way in which these dynamics is explored is through studies of popular protest. My initial research interests focused exclusively upon the geographies of protest in rural England during (after Polanyi) ‘The Great Transformation’. More recently my work has developed to embrace an agenda which whilst still focusing upon conflict examines all relations of transformation, whether between the poor and their employers, the local and the central state, or humans and the non-human. As such, an equal degree of emphasis is attached to the technologies of relations (for instance, laws, markets, property, policy) as it does to forms of legitimization (custom, practice).

 

My research follows three distinct, but interlinking, approaches: 

1). Popular protest and the spatial politics of labouring life

My interest in the protests of English rural workers began as an undergraduate student at Bristol, where I began to work on the so-called Swing Riots of 1830. Ever since, the central drive of my research has focused on the protests and politics of the farmworkers and artisans of the English countryside. Whilst my research has widened to consider both the pre- and post-Swing resort to protest and the ‘practices’ of protest - including food rioting for which a paper is in preparation – in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Swing continues to be the pivotal focus. This research seeks to locate our understanding of popular protest in the local contexts of the politics of everyday life and the local-national-international interplay that determined experiences of work/worklessness and welfare, authority and custom. A monograph on Swing - the first such study in over 40 years - was published with Manchester University Press in 2012 (see below). I have also recently completed a second book - Protest, Politics and Labouring Life in Rural England, 1700-1850 - published by Palgrave in 2014. A further book (co-edited with Iain Robertson and Briony McDonagh) - Memory, Materiality and Landscapes of Protest in Britain Since 1500 - will be published with Palgrave in 2017.

 

Key recent publications:

McDonagh, B and Griffin, C.J. 2016 (forthcoming) Occupy! Historical geographies of property, protest and the commons, 1500-1850. Journal of Historical Geography

Griffin, C.J. 2014 Protest, Politics and Work in Rural England, 1700-1850 (Palgrave)

Griffin, C.J. 2012 The Rural War: Captain Swing and the Politics of Protest (Manchester University Press)

Griffin, C.J. 2010 The violent Captain Swing? Past & Present, 209, 149-180.

Griffin, C.J. 2010 'The mystery of the fires': Captain Swing as incendiarist. Southern History, 32, 22-44.

Griffin, C.J. 2009 Swing, Swing redivivus or something after Swing? On the death throes of a movement, December 1830 - December 1833. International Review of Social History, 54, 3, 459-497

Griffin, C.J. 2006 Knowable geographies? The reporting of incendiarism in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth century English provincial press. Journal of Historical Geography, 32, 1, 38-56.

 

2). Environmental and more-than-human histories
 

The experience of economic and social change in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century English countryside cannot be divorced from the impact of the intensification of agrarian capitalism on the spaces and non-human things – plants, animals, machines… – that co-constituted them. The trend over the last twenty years – with some important exceptions – though has been to write the non-human out of rural histories, focusing squarely on a narrowly defined sociology of rural life. My research seeks to think through the ecological consequences of capitalist change and state-making strategies, specifically in relation to human and non-human interactions. Again, protest and strategies of resistance provide a pivotal foci. This work has assumed a number of foci, not least attacks on animals and plants as forms of resistance, forest and tree history, and (with Iain Robertson) the theory of moral ecology.

 
Key recent publications:
 

Griffin, C.J. 2016 (forthcoming) Enclosures from below? The politics of squatting and encroachment in the post-Restoration New Forest. Historical Research.

Griffin, C.J. 2014 ‘Some inhuman wretch’: animal maiming and the ambivalent relationship between rural workers and animals, Rural History, 25, 2, pp.133-160.

Griffin, C.J. 2012 Animal maiming, intimacy and the politics of shared life: the bestial and the beastly in 18th- and early 19th-century England, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 2, pp.301-316.

Griffin, C.J. 2011 Popular perceptions of forests: space and place, in Forster, P. & Ritter, E. (eds.) Society, Culture and Forests: Human-Landscape Relations in a Changing World (Springer), 139-158.

Griffin, C.J. 2010 More-than-human histories and the failure of grand states schemes. Cultural Geographies, 17, 4, 451-472

Griffin, C.J. 2008 Protest practice and (tree) cultures of conflict: understanding the spaces of 'tree maiming' in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40, 1, 91-108

Griffin, C.J. 2008 'Cut down by some cowardly miscreants’: plant maiming, or the malicious cutting of plants as an act of protest in eighteenth- and nineteenth century rural England, Rural History, 19, 1, 29-54

 

3). Labour, law and the state
 

Notwithstanding the lead given By E.P. Thompson’s seminal ‘The moral economy of the English crowd in the eighteenth century’ and his Whigs and Hunters, the vibrant field of social protest studies in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was often criticised for failing to consider the importance of law, regulation and the interaction between law makers and enforcers, policy creators and implementers, and rural workers. Whilst such considerations have long been central to my research on popular protest, recently my research has begun to systematically consider these relationships from two standpoints. First, a British Academy-funded project on the building of institutional knowledge and practices regarding labour disputes in the English West before the arrest of the so-called Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834 ('Other Tolpuddles? Trade Unionism and Labour Regulation in the English Countryside'; Award reference: SG091233). Second, a nascent project on the ‘spatiality’ of state making in early modern England. This project examines the spatial transformations inacted both wittingly and unwittingly through state legislation, focusing on such diverse spaces as ‘navigations’, plantations, and oyster beds.

 

Key recent publications:

Griffin, C.J. 2015 The culture of combination: labour solidarities before Tolpuddle, Historical Journal, 58, 2, pp.443-480.

Griffin, C.J. 2014 The Great Famine in colonial context: public reaction and responses in Britain before the “Black ’47”, Historical Geography, 42, pp.111-129.

Griffin, C.J. 2011 Parish farms and the poor law: a response to unemployment in rural southern England, c.1815-1835, Agricultural History Review, 59, 2, pp.176-198.

Griffin, C.J. 2010 More-than-human histories and the failure of grand states schemes. Cultural Geographies, 17, 4, 451-472.

Griffin, C.J. 2010 Becoming private property: custom, law, and the geographies of 'ownership' in 18th- and 19th-century England. Environment and Planning A, 42, 3, 747-762.

Griffin, C.J. 2009 Placing political economy: organising opposition to free trade before the abolition of the Corn Laws. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41, 4, 489-505.

 

Additionally, I am also interested in the practices of historical geography, something explored in three co-convened sessions on the ‘Historical geographies of embodied practice’ held at the 2007 AAG in San Francisco. The sessions were published in 2008 as a special themed issue of the journal Historical Geography.

Griffin, C.J., Lorimer, H., and Thomas, N. 2013. The Historical Geography Research Group: a reflection on the recent past and thoughts on the future', in Butlin, R. The Historical Geography Research Group: A History (Historical Geography Research series, no. 44), pp.66-78.

Griffin, C.J. and Evans, A. (eds.) 2008. Historical geographies of embodied practice and performance. Historical Geography. 36, 5-162.