The sociology of recurrent ceremonial drama: Lewes Guy Fawkes Night, 1800-1913

Etherington, James Edward (1988). The sociology of recurrent ceremonial drama: Lewes Guy Fawkes Night, 1800-1913. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000dea2

Abstract

Social phenomena can be best understood through an interdisciplinary approach involving history and the social sciences that brings together structural forces and the human agency. This contention is critically examined in the present thesis by establishing a symbiotic relationship between historical, sociological and anthropological accounts of social custom, ceremony and disturbance through the analysis of the Lewes Guy Fawkes Night celebrations as a recurrent ceremonial drama.

This strategy demonstrates the gradual process of change within Lewes, as reflected in the slowly evolving form of the celebrations, indicating the existence of a relatively stable community touched, but not radically altered, by industrial or urban development. As a consequence, it is argued, the development of class conflict and class consciousness did not occur. Rather, expressions of 'popular conservatism' and community orientation remained the dominant modes of expression throughout the latter half of the century. Empirical evidence both supports this conclusion and proffers an alternative.

Using the social drama model, it is shown how two periods of opposition to the celebrations bring into focus the sources of tension and the contending factions. The analysis of the motives and ideologies expressed at these times identifies a similarity between those of the working class "bonfire boys" and of their middle class supporters which, while not totally negating class interpretations of conflict surrounding social customs, do undermine it as a single explanation.

From this it is argued that the neighbourhood orientation of the bonfire societies provides an alternative explanation, a sense of community rather than class conflict motivating the participants. The reconstruction of extensive social networks among the "bonfire boys" stresses the relationships upon which community as a social entity arises, the durability of the celebrations being attributable to a desire to reaffirm these relationships. The activities of the bonfire boys are thus expressions of community, rather than class solidarity.

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