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Response to Review no. 530

I would like to thank Karen Harvey for her thoughtful and generous response to my book. Given that I started this journey as a postgraduate in political history, it is very exciting to hear a gender historian asserting that the book is a ‘turning point’ in her field. As I am in the happy position of not having very much with which to disagree, I will instead use this forum to consider further some of Karen’s fascinating reflections.

The key methodological issue that Karen highlights is the question of whether – or how far – independence was a dominant code of masculinity. If I was starting this research now, I would certainly engage more explicitly with Connell’s work on ‘hegemony’, given that this has more recently become the key concept in the gender historian’s armoury when discussing the role of masculinity in the political realm. Whether independence was a hegemonic code of masculinity is open to question. It was unquestionably a dominant ideal, both in the sense of its social pervasiveness and insofar as the political order was to a large extent predicated upon it (although I would have to think some more about whether this works in Connell’s structurally Gramscian sense). On the other hand, it was an extremely rich and flexible notion that could be appropriated by a range of social groups and to a variety of political positions. One reason why ‘independence’ is so interesting is the lengths to which people went in order to contest its meaning. Even when the reforming Whigs of 1832 legislatively defined the citizen as being an ‘independent man’, it opened the door to generations of radical working men who claimed that they too met this standard. I doubt whether this makes the Chartists ‘complicit’ in Connell’s sense, any more than other social constituencies can be labelled ‘subordinate’ or ‘marginal’, not least because independence was in part an identity category that was very much in the eye of the beholder. Plenty of freeholders who gave one of their two votes to a powerful local figure would nevertheless act the part of ‘the independent man’ to the letter in the ritualised drama of a parliamentary election contest.

Another issue that Karen raises is that of periodisation. She is absolutely right that the book primarily concentrates on the post-1760 period, and acknowledges that this is because this is the period when the idea of ‘manly independence’ began to change in relation to the question of the vote. On the other hand, my work since completing this book has taken me into earlier decades. Karen has highlighted elsewhere that the 1730s and early 40s were times when political and military anxieties were linked to those about masculinity, and I am currently exploring how the debates over militia service during the Seven Years’ War established many of the arguments about masculine citizenship that would be revisited by political reformers in the decades to come. The history of political masculinities in the early-Georgian period is therefore a fascinating area for further work.

Karen is also right that the 1832 Reform Act is the end of my story, but I tried hard not to characterise the preceding two centuries as having led up to it. The ‘new political history’ is often accused of turning Whiggish teleologies on their head – thus the political order becomes gradually less inclusive and free, rather than more so – but I hope that I succeeded in emphasising that the transformations in this gendered idea were far from being linear. Rather, they could be complex, contested or contradictory, especially during times of war or revolution. I hope that this chronological specificity was one of the benefits of limiting my remit to a single notion, rather than attempting a broad survey of ‘masculinity and politics’ (which a wise referee at MUP counselled me against including in my title). As historians are beginning to appreciate, there are many fascinating ways to think about men’s gendered experience of the political world, and I am delighted that Karen has responded so supportively to the approach that I have proposed. I am very grateful to her for her review and look forward to continuing this dialogue in the future.