Adriane Fresh (Duke University), "Population and Political Change in Industrial Britain"
This paper considers the contribution of population growth and urbanization—key processes of modernization—for political development in Britain, largely considered the first nation to undergo a modern demographic transformation. Where the modernization literature has typically considered the consequences of urbanization for national-level political institutions, I consider the deeply-related, but distinct question of how variation in population and its geographic distribution within Britain affected electoral contestation and the characteristics of political representatives. I ask whether these core modernization processes fundamentally disrupted the extant powerful and facilitated greater turnover in the political elite. To do so, I use an original dataset of Member of Parliament (MP) biographical information to measure political contestation, the presence of political dynasties, and the circulation of new economic interests through political power. Leveraging sub-national variation in population growth and urbanization over ~150 years, I find that modernization diversified the economic interests of MPs, increased electoral contests and reduced the presence of political dynasties and other traditional elites. I demonstrate that new political representatives were not simply the old elite in a new economic guise. I interpret this as evidence in support of modernization theory—economic modernization in the British Isles broke entrenched elites' direct hold on political power.
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