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Three decades of research into retailing in England from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries has established a seemingly clear narrative: fixed shops were widespread from an early date; 'modern' methods of retailing were common from at least the early eighteenth century; shopping was a skilled activity throughout the period; and consumers were increasingly part of - and aware of being part of - a polite and fashionable culture. All of this is true, but is it the only narrative? Research has shown that markets were still important well into the nineteenth century and small scale producer-retailers co-existed with modern warehouses. Many shops were not smart. The development of modern retailing therefore was a fractured and fragmented process. This book presents a reassessment of the standard view by challenging the usefulness of concepts like 'traditional' and 'modern', examining consumption and retailing as inextricably linked aspects of a single process, and by using the idea of narrative to discuss the roles and perceptions of the various actors in this process - such as retailers, shoppers/consumers, local authorities and commentators. The book is therefore structured around some of these competing narratives in order to provide a richer and more varied picture of consumption and retailing in provincial England.
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Ian Mitchell is Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wolverhampton, UK.Review:
'Mitchell argues convincingly that modernity was a fragmented and fractured process, and successfully anchors grand narratives in the complexity of everyday experience. He focuses at least some of our attention onto traditional and humble forms of retailing and invites us - quite rightly - to think closely about the link between retailer and consumer... this is an impressive and very readable book; one that provides rich insights into a dynamic and diverse set of economic and social practices.' Agricultural History Review 'Mitchell's book is effective in its attempt to rebalance the historiography of retailing which has largely been driven by evidence of change. After all, the course of retail development cannot be described solely in terms of an inevitable trend towards innovation...By drawing together multiple narratives Mitchell provides a nuanced perspective on the period and succeeds in suggesting that evidence of continuity should be analysed as vigorously as that of change in order to provide the most realistic interpretation of the past.' Economic History Review
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