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Abstract

Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor has always had an enthusiastic following, but scholarship on it has been limited and scholars fairly restrained in response to it. This essay examines questions about Mayhew’s sample set (the working-class or the lumpenproleteriat? the poor or the marginal?), the veracity of his interviews, his relations with his subjects, and the publication history of his text. While he has been read as a proto-sociologist, this essay, following Christopher Herbert, suggests that it is more fruitful to view Mayhew’s project as an early-ethnographic effort. The review of Mayhew criticism concludes with a brief reading of Mayhew’s presentation of the street-folk involved in reclaiming wastes – a project that has clear affinities with Mayhew’s own work.