Abstract: "An indissoluble mutual destiny": The North Staffordshire Potteries and the Limits of Regional Trade Associationalism

Andrew Popp

Abstract

This paper explores the proposition that industrial districts encourage and depend upon the development of extra-firm institutions and associations that act to temper competition and foster co-operation. The second half of the nineteenth century saw a series of attempts to establish such associations in the North Staffordshire Potteries. Each in turn failed. A number of questions suggest themselves: Why do some districts foster successful associations where others don't? What constitutes success and failure? How are we to interpret the decisions made by individual proprietors and entrepreneurs with regard to their participation in associations? And ultimately, how are we to understand the interplay of agency and structure within industrial districts? Simply, what choices were made, why, and to what effect? It will be argued that the limits to associationalism in the North Staffordshire Potteries were related to the fundamental problem of developing unity in the face of the ‘individual assumptions' prevailing in the business community of the district. The failure of these institutions demonstrates the difficulty of creating cohesion in a highly competitive industrial district, and is a reminder that the concept of the industrial district is as yet vague on the conditions under which a balance between competition and co-operation will be struck. Agency, choice, identity, and action and their interaction with context, structure, and contingency emerge as key issues.