|Rockdale: Anthony F.C. Wallace|
Copyright 1994 Adam Barnhart. All Rights Reserved. Fair use of this document.In his book, Rockdale, Anthony F.C. Wallace explores the relationship between the products of technology and social organization. Wallace focuses his study on the fairly small village of Rockdale, an environment that is intended to reflect a significant part of the American industrial experience of the nineteenth century. Many parallels are drawn between the various members of the community, relating not only to their time and place, but the religious, intellectual, and organizational aspects of life in Pennsylvania during the early- to mid-1800's. The role of work and industry in the social life is emphasized, detailing the advance of science and technology during the period and the manner in which the advance shaped the labor experience and, hence, the constitution on the community. The "indomitable perseverance" (21) of the community and leaders such as John Crozer and John Phillips in the world of industry led to a rapid assimilation of technology which both reflected and reaffirmed a relationship between economic and intellectual progress in the minds of the people of Rockdale.
Wallace studies this trend temporally, describing first the apex of Rockdale's economic success, then detailing its evolution from a growing village, through great industrial success, to the impact of the Civil War. In detailing the history of industrial technology, he clearly illustrates the importance of economic factors in creating the intellectual climate of the era, first with the emergence of an Owen/Fourier-influenced communal industrialism and later with the development of an evangelical response which better suited the needs and desires of a smaller, more conservative community. The people of Rockdale eventually tended to "a belief in America as a Christian capitalist nation,...(viewing) the social classes as complementary rather than antagonistic," engaging in anti-masonic politics, supporting the existing, traditional communal bonds of religion and work relations (342).
Rockdale is largely a ethnographic, socio-anthropological, qualitative study of a small community that is fairly difficult to access historically. As a result, the body of information provided by Wallace is more interpretive than a typical socio-historical study. While Wallace makes a compelling case for the importance of technology in the construction of community, the ramifications of technological change on the emergence of ideological conflict is less clear. The shape of intellectual debate between enlightenment ideas and the evangelical tradition does not seem to be a necessary result of the technology of the time, as broader historical studies suggest, suggesting the possibility of an a priori organization of the argument.
The ethnomethodological orientation of the book provides excellent detail into the history of a distinct American tradition. This orientation, however, also has many limitations in studying the tradition itself. Ethnomethodological study emphasizes microphenomena, which do not always accurately reflect the broader environment that gives meaning to the study. In the case of Wallace's work, it is not completely clear that Rockdale isn't an epiphenomenon in the larger context of American industrial development. The forces and issues that emerge as a result of industrialization are exceptionally clear in the book, but the place Rockdale holds in American history through its resolution of those issues is not totally clear. Ultimately, an explanation of the meaning of the evangelical, rather than socialist or masonic, industrial practice of the community as a part of a national community would be useful.
Though Wallace's work, in large part, fails to deal with intercommunity relationships, his analysis of intracommunal forces is first-rate. He provides a valuable history of technology in the early- and mid-nineteenth century, a history that is valuable in its own right. The study is greatly aided by extensive discussions of ideology and intellectual change, as innovation is as much a result of social and individual belief as it is a cause of them. While a more complete connection between the microsphere and the macrosphere is desirable, Rockdale is a detailed and convincing account of American industrial life in the 1800's.