Defining ‘work’ is, as Keith Thomas argues in The Oxford Book of Work (1999), more difficult than one might think. Finding out how people who work actually think about labour is even more challenging, certainly for past times and different cultures. The last decades have witnessed an increased interest in the conceptualization of and personal attitudes towards work. Most authors, however, focus on societal groups engaged in ‘normal’ (remunerated and non-remunerated) labour sectors such as industry, agriculture, service, non-profit or domestic. There is thus one important group of people which tends to be marginalised, not only in society but also in scientific analyses of work. In spite of their active, and in some cases very disciplined, participation in the circulation of money and construction of human relationships, ‘social outcasts’ seem not to be entitled to express their views on labour.
The panel on perceptions of work I intend to organise for the European Social Science History Conference (Glasgow, 11-14 April 2012) will focus on this specific group, from any geographical region and in historical perspective. Several questions come to mind. How did prostitutes, thieves, beggars, pimps, drug dealers, vagabonds and so on define their (daily) activities with which they maintained themselves and possibly their families? Did they perceive these activities as being their job or to the contrary, did they make a differentiation between ‘work’ and their occupation? Did the concept of work have a positive or negative connotation for them? Did a negative perception of work and refusal to participate in the regular or legal labour market imply a form of rebellion towards mainstream society and its economic activities, or did (some of) these people originally feel alienated from society and chose therefore for alternative ways of living? Did they view their activities as temporal or did they combine them with other forms of regular work? Did they develop a specific culture among their peers?
All those interested in these and other related topics are welcome to send a short abstract of up to 400 words to email@example.com by 1 April 2011. More information on the conference can be found on the website of the ESSHC: http://www.iisg.nl/esshc/2012/ v
Magaly Rodriguez Garcia
Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pleinlaan 2 – 5B407d
1050 Brussels – Belgium
+ 32 2 629 12 76
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