Rethinking Worlds of Labour: Southern African labour history in international context.
A conference from Friday 28th to Monday 31st July 2006, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Labour history has traditionally been structured around national labour histories. It is a merit of the current interest in "globalisation" that it directs attention towards the transnational dimensions of labour history,
and of labour movements. If the limitations of a purely national focus on labour are highlighted by current international changes, so too are the limitations of national labour histories.
A transnational perspective has significant implications for the study of labour history, and the analysis of its core concerns with labour organisation, ideology and leadership.
It points to the need to examine the transnational dimensions of labour history, to look at labour history through a regional lense, and to undertake comparative and regional labour histories of the less developed
and semi-peripheral regions that make up the global "South"
It draws attention to the "first" globalisation of the 1870s-1930s, a period characterised by huge international flows of capital and labour.
It underscores the transnational history and character of labour politics, organisation and tradition, a history that includes the anarchist, Communist, nationalist and socialist currents of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
And, finally, it provides the basis to foster ongoing collaborative work between scholars based in, or otherwise researching, the trajectory of the global "South."
Southern Africa and the global "South"
Such concerns are of particular relevance to southern Africa, where national labour histories exist alongside a working class that has never been neatly bounded by the borders of States. South Africa industrialised in the context of the "first" globalisation, becoming the nexus through which the region was integrated into the global political economy. Flows of capital and labour into, within, and from southern Africa welded the region together.
Transnational imperial structures linked a range of countries. The mines on the Witwatersrand and the central African Copperbelt provided key nodes of accumulation, and cross-border infrastructure channeled these flows.
The labour force, flowing within, and into, and out of, the region, from Africa, from Australia, Europe, and from the Americas, was both multi-national and transnational. It was racially structured around two poles, in a pattern that replicated itself throughout the region. African
labour was unfree, migrant, unskilled and subject to racial discrimination and prejudice. White labour was divided between unskilled, but free, poor Whites, and the layers that dominated skilled and supervisory positions
across the region. Coloured and Indian workers occupied an uncomfortable intermediate position as free labour facing racial barriers.
Each of these sectors of the emerging working class developed its own labour traditions; many of these traditions flowed within class and racial conduits, and cut across State boundaries within the southern African
region. At the same time, international diasporas, and flows of people and ideas, influenced the political positions of each sector. Australia, Jamaica, India, Lithuania, and Cornwall are part of these histories, as are
the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and the Congo.
Southern Africa therefore provides an excellent starting point for rethinking labour history in a transnational manner. It underlines the importance of international processes on national labour histories, suggesting the importance of connections and comparisons between national
labour markets and movements and politics.
If Southern Africa can be examined as a region, in which the working class cannot be neatly confined to a single country and national narrative, its labour history must be rethought at a regional level. Likewise, research on
Southern African labour history would benefit greatly from comparison with economic development in other regions, and of the formation of other regional working classes.
A transnational approach, in which labour history is rethought at a regional level, at a comparative level, and as a part of a broader global history, has potentially enormous implications for historical studies and
If current debates on "globalisation," then, direct attention to the experiences of working classes and labour movements in the era of the "first" globalisation, these experiences are, in turn, highly relevant to contemporary debates on labour and other social movements in the today's
era, the "second" globalisation.
Current debates can reshape our thinking about labour's past; rethinking the past opens new perspectives for thinking about labour's future.
Broad aims and outcomes
The proposed conference has several aims, in light of the above:
To foster transnational and regional studies of labour
To rethink the "givens" of South African and southern African labour
historiography in light of international processes and linkages, with
particular reference to the emergence of labour as a regional process and
force and movement in southern Africa, the importance of imperial context
and the international flow of ideas and workers, and labour diasporas, and
of comparisons with other regions.
To promote develop comparative labour histories with reference to southern
Africa, and to comparisons between southern Africa and other regions of the
To introduce new approaches and debates within labour history more
generally into the field of South African and southern African labour
Within this broad aim, there are a number of possible areas of interest, including, but not restricted to:
International labour markets and labour migration
Transnational and international trade unionism and labour activism
Labour diasporas and labour politics
Race, gender and nation in a transnational labour history
Labour migration, gendered labour and the sphere of reproduction
Gender, identity and the labour movement
Labour radicalism and internationalism in comparative perspective
Labour biography and the transnational history of labour
Comparative analyses of Southern Africa and South Asia
The Indian diaspora and the Indian working class
Workers, war, politics and militarisation
Labour under, against, and after colonialism
Labour in the Southern African region: connections, conflicts and conduits
Comparative labour radicalism in Southern Africa
Comparing labour radicalism in the global "South"
Labour, communism and labour parties
Anarchism, syndicalism and working class internationalism
International labour federations and Southern labour
Labour movements and the Cold War
Labour and the multiple meanings of racial identity
Working class literary cultures and consciousness
The geography of labour movements
Race, space and place in comparative labour histories
Labour movements and the "first" and "second" globalisation
Reflections on the pasts and futures of labour history
We welcome proposals for presentations on specific aspects of these themes,suggestions for related themes, and for panels.
The deadline for submitting abstracts for proposed papers, or panels is 30 November 2005.
For additional conference information please visit http://www.wits.ac.za/historyworkshop/conferences.htm
Acceptance of papers
Please note that in order to maintain the conference focus and to minimise parallel sessions, acceptance of proposals for papers or panels is not automatic. Applicants will, however, be informed of the organising committee's decisions by no later than 30 January 2006.
Accepted papers must be submitted in electronic form to the organisers by no later than 30 May 2006. All accepted participants are required to finalise their registration by arranging their full conference payment before 15 June 2005.
If you wish to attend the conference, but will not be presenting a paper, you must nonetheless pay the full conference fee before 15 June 2005.
The conference is organised by the History Workshop and the Sociology of Work Unit (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa) The organising committee is made up of Andries Bezuidenhout, Phil Bonner, Jon Hyslop, Noor Nieftagodien, Nicole Ulrich, and Lucien van der Walt.
Send comments and questions to H-Net
Webstaff. H-Net reproduces announcements that have been submitted to us as a
free service to the academic community. If you are interested in an announcement
listed here, please contact the organizers or patrons directly. Though we strive
to provide accurate information, H-Net cannot accept responsibility for the text of
announcements appearing in this service. (Administration)