Local spaces of labour control or platforms for agency? The North East Durham Coalfield, 1820–1890

Hannah Elizabeth Martin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


There has been a substantial body of work in labour and political geography regarding worker agency and labour control, yet there have been recent calls for the development of a more embedded and fluid sense of these processes. This paper uses a historical geography approach to develop an understanding of agency and control as relational and inter-dependant processes which are created, maintained and experienced in direct conversation with one another. The geographically isolated and occupationally homogenous coal mining communities of the North East Durham Coalfield developed within a landscape which was initially created to serve the objectives of the land owners and capitalist companies. Such development ensured that experiences of control and agency were not only centred in the workplace or the social sphere, but encompassed an entire economic, social and physical landscape. Moving away from the idea of the agent as a unionised worker, proving passive to control mechanisms, there is much to be gained in understanding both the agency and control of individuals as well as agency and control embedded within their communities and families. Over a century of industrial relations in the North East Durham Coalfield was shaped by the dialogues of agency and control present in the nineteenth century. Developing a more dynamic sense of agency and control, allows for traditional labour histories to be revisited through a lens which emphasises the crucial role of space, and the conversational nature of control practices and labour agency, on the everyday experience of the working class.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-82
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


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