For the VI Labor History Workshop and II International Worlds of Labor Conference (Rio de Janeiro, 27-30 November 2012), I intend to organise a session on workers that have traditionally been viewed as the opposite of or as ‘minor classes’ vis-à-vis free wage labourers. Following the insights of historians and sociologists who question the classic ‘working class’ concept, this panel seeks to gather researchers studying categories of people who have remained outside analyses of work. It aims to include in the history of labour not only what Marx called ‘lumpenproletiariat’ but also persons who oscillated between the legal and illegal labour markets (prostitutes, pimps, thieves, vagabonds, beggars, domestic/bondservants, hawkers, peddlers, ex-slaves, street entertainers, seamstresses and so on). As Marcel van der Linden (2008) proposes, the ambition of this session is also to rethink the utility of the sharply defined Marxist scheme that divides free wage labourers from other subaltern groups. For instance, my ongoing research on prostitution and child labour supports van der Linden’s idea of the existence of intermediate forms between wage labour and slavery, or between wage labour/slavery/self-employment and lumpenproletariat.
This session welcomes papers on national cases or international comparisons, for any historical period focusing on any of the following themes:
a) Theoretical overviews on the concept of labour (used here as synonymous of ‘work’). What defines work? Which activities constitute work? John W. Budd sees work as a ‘purposeful human activity involving physical or mental exertion that is not undertaken solely for pleasure and that has economic or symbolic value’ (2011, p. 2). Can then theft, begging or criminal activities be regarded as (temporary) jobs?
b) Interplay between state and non-state actors in the regulation of labour. Who defines what work is and is not? And how do moralistic, economic, nationalist or other considerations influence processes of labour regulations?
c) Social profiles of subaltern workers: religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds; educational level; previous or parallel employment experiences; family situation; age structure.
d) Push and pull factors / motivations for subaltern activity/ies: urbanisation and industrialisation; proletarisation and pauperisation; gender segregation in the ‘regular’ labour market; demographic transitions; migration; trafficking…
e) (Changes of) Working conditions: sphere of activity (outside or inside the home/household/town/country?); payment systems (money or valued commodities?); full-time or part-time activity (in combination with other forms of work?); material conditions of subservience imbedded in a wider structure of gendered, economic, class or racial subservience?; did social constructs based on race, gender, religion, class and/or age encourage of discourage solidarity and (formal or informal) activism?
Those interested are requested to send an abstract of max. 300 words and a short CV (no more than 10 lines) to email@example.com as soon as possible but no later than 15 March 2012.
Magaly Rodríguez García
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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