Labor History Special Issue on Factory History
Editors: Görkem Akgöz, Richard Croucher, Nico Pizzolato
The factory once loomed large in national historiographies. As the emblematic locus of industrialization, the industrial plant nurtured the core soul of capitalism: the relations of production on the shop floor. Labour historians once revelled in the history of the factory, focusing sharply on its workers and their organizations. Conversely, since the 1980s, after the wave of de-industrialization and factory relocation that has characterized western economies, the factory, along with the industrial worker, seems to have disappeared from historians’ agenda. Deindustrialization has inspired a questionable historical narrative predicated on the shift from an ‘industrial economy’ to a ‘knowledge economy’. Factories are allegedly no longer at the centre of policy-making decisions, electoral programmes or social protest. Industrial trade unions are ghosts of their former selves, while organised labour has become a largely public sector phenomenon. The factory interests few. But, in a world awash with manufactured goods, where have the factories, and their workers, gone?
Monographs on the factory were once frequent, and some were models of their genre, but they sometimes adopted an overly narrow industrial relations lens (or, worse, the hagiographic tone of a company history) that obfuscated what could be gained from an integrated, interdisciplinary and multi-focal gaze. For this reason, this issue will encourage contributions that study the factory through multiple lenses. For instance, as part of the urban space, the ways its architecture, planning and organization affected workers’ patterns of protest and consent, influenced practices of management or transformed the urban environment. A novel research agenda on the factory would be located at the intersection of different disciplines and sub-disciplines, looking at a variety of agents, and cross the boundaries of national historiographies of industrialization and de-industrialization.
This issue will gather contributions from historians focusing on the historical study of a factory or small group of factories. They inherit a rich patrimony from previous studies that should not be ignored or too readily dismissed, through ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’. In addition, they may profit from recent developments. For instance, in the aftermath of Jefferson Cowie’s Capital Moves, historians have started to consider a narrative of industrial relations that is not place-bound or confined by national boundaries.*1
Transnational or global labour history opens the way for a study of the factory that is not centred on or confined to the western worker, and associated assumptions. The interdisciplinary perspectives advocated by previous social historians may now be more readily practiced in light of the recent and very considerable development of feminist, ‘social science’, urban and business history. A micro-level analysis is where this integration works best. As Francesca Trivellato has demonstrated, micro-history is not at all antithetic to global history. This applies to the industrial workplace too, whose organisational and cultural ramifications link the specific location of plant to a number of other locales. In a world dominated by global supply chains and a pervading neo-liberal discourse, the point has real force.
We invite evidence-based studies that could elaborate, nuance and even challenge the benefits of this approach or illustrate its limitations. As a whole, the issue will demonstrate the approach’s sphere of application, its arsenal of concepts and theory, and its efficacy in analysing empirical reality. The issue will include 3 to 5 articles, apart from the introduction.
We look forward to receiving contributions on topics such as: factory, state and labour; factory and social relations of production; factory and the production of difference; factory and city; factory (and) culture; factory, capital and management. Overall, the call will invite historians working on a single factory or a small group of factories to reflect on their choice of unit of analysis and its epistemological and methodological implications.
*1 Marcel van der Linden. Transnational Labour History: Explorations. London: Routledge, 2003; Jan Lucassen (ed.) Global labour History: A State of the Art. Peter Lang, 2006; Leon Fink (ed.) Workers across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011; Michael P. Hanagan. “An Agenda for Transnational Labor History,” International Review of Social History 49, 2004: 455-474.