In the eighteenth century subcontracting was an important way of organising production in sectors producing as different commodities as clocks, coaches, footwear, furniture and scientific instruments. This article argues that subcontracting was not simply a form of cost reduction in labour-intensive and technologically unsophisticated sectors. Subcontracting could be seen as a way to respond to profound changes in the way commodities were produced, exchanged and consumed in an eighteenth-century metropolis like London. The expansion in size and complexity of the metropolitan market, the appearance of new commodities classified as semi-luxuries and fashion items, and the consequent re-assessment of traditional social structures and norms of production, made subcontracting a tool of organisational flexibility
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