Child Labour: The Dark Side of Industrialisation?


The 18th and 19th century are defined by the restructuring of the British and French economies away from agriculture and towards a mass-manufacture economy, and with that economic change came important social consequences. Perhaps one of the most studied aspects of this socioeconomic transformation was the perceived amelioration of child labour, though the magnitude of this phenomenon, and the degree to which it contributed to the two nations’ industrial revolutions, remains a matter of debate. This essay will argue that, in Britain, child labour was an important initial catalyst in the ‘classical’ period of the Industrial Revolution, but became more and more irrelevant as the complexity of manufacture advanced, whilst in France the phenomenon occurred on a smaller scale and did not coincide with her most rapid period of industrial development.

Defining child labour is problematic, given that the concepts of childhood and adulthood are in essence social constructs that…

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