Labour Crossings: World, Work and History

CFP: a conference in Johannesburg, 5-8 Sep 2008
Call for papers: Labour Crossings: World, Work and History
An international conference from Friday 5 September to Monday 8 September 2008, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Organised by the History Workshop and the Centre for Sociological Research, South Africa, in association with the International Association of Labour History Institutions and the International Conference of Labour and Social History.


This conference has two main aims: first, to contribute to the development of a transnational labour history, and, second, to explore the connections between, and social imaginations of, different types of workers, working class movements and types of work. Labour history has usually been written as a series of national histories, as the history of industrial workers, and as part of the history of the modern period.
The transnational turn in labour history has led to a closer scrutiny of relations between labour in different regions of the globe, but also a broadening of our conceptions of labour history: a global perspective on labour history raises questions about such basic conceptions as 'labour', 'work' and 'labour movements'. This conference aims to engage with the historiography of labour in 'emerging countries', and help develop a transnational labour historiography.

In taking 'labour crossings' as our theme, we are interested in a wide range of 'crossings': between time periods, between regions and continents, between types of work, between waged work and domestic work, between free and non-free work, between different imaginations and imagined worlds, between religion and labour, between unions, politics and other types of movements, between race and labour, between gender and class, between economies and environments, between work and leisure, between consumption and production, between the 'private' and the 'public', between industrial and pre-industrial capitalism, between the modern and the pre-modern worlds, and between intellectual disciplines and traditions.

The conference specifically seeks to explore flows of working class people, ideas and organisation across national boundaries, the forms of cooperation and conflict this generates. On what varying scales (regional, local, national, imperial, universal ...), for instance, did groups of workers imagine their worlds, and with what consequences? Can the notion of 'diaspora' be re-thought in relation to the study of labour? What about labour crossings that are neither national nor universal, but operate internationally, like Garveyism, Pan-Islamism, and other religious and ethno-national identities, and how do these intersect with labour organisation? The conference also wants to unpack the notion of a 'global South' as an optic to view labour. How did the idea of 'the South' originate, how does it affect analysis, identities, and projects, and how has it evolved over time?

The conference wants to question conventional understandings of the state and its relation to the working class, relativise the nation-State, and place Empires centre-stage as units of analysis in understanding the labour politics of the previous centuries, and look at connections within and between Empires. How do we understand, for example, Asian indentured labour in imperial terms? How did an imperial political framework interact with the self-identifications and political projects of the migrant workers themselves? What was the role of working class connections between and across Empires, as well regions without Empires? What are the implications of slavery, servitude, gender and the 'informal sector' for labour history? Military organisations, imperial and otherwise, propel vast numbers of workers across state boundaries as soldiers, labourers and refugees, and major class struggles often follow in their wake. The world wars were followed by waves of nation-Stateformation: how did this reshape labour imaginaries, and what has been the impact of the post-independence experience?

Possible Themes
The conference aims to expand the frontiers of labour history. Within this broad aim, there are a number of possible areas of interest, including, but not restricted to:
  • Cross-nationalism and cross-disciplinarity: doing labour history
  • The state of labour history in the 'emerging countries'
  • Archives, sources, museums and working class monuments
  • Labour and the invention of 'the South'
  • Labour diasporas and imaginations
  • Slaves, servants and struggles
  • Comparing Africa and Latin America
  • Mining history across the ages
  • Public sector workers and teachers: class, leadership and identity
  • Service sector workers, globally and comparatively
  • Gendered worker identity and social movements
  • Labour and the environment
  • Caste, race and class
  • Labour and religions: crossings, connections and reincarnations
  • Labour, consumption and leisure
  • Disease and crossings
  • Workers, mobility and immobility
  • Wars and working class movements
  • Transport and labour across space and time
  • Worker movement and movements: region and empire
  • The working class and the media: reading publics, movements and imaginations
  • Organising in work without wages
  • Crossing class: the poor, the unemployed and wage labour
  • Organising in conditions of repression and illegality
  • Political cultures of internationalism
  • Explaining global strike waves
  • Working people and revolutions
  • Communism, connections, comparisons
  • Syndicalism, subversion, solidarities
  • State formation, regulation and the nationalisation of labour
  • Transnational labour movements
We welcome proposals for papers on these themes, suggestions for related themes, and proposals for panels of 3-4 papers. We are particularly interested in papers that cross disciplines, epochs, regions, and themes, and help us to rethink "labour" and labour history from a transnational perspective.

Deadlines and Timetable

Registration and proposals
In order to propose a paper or a panel, you need to pre-register for the conference through our website, and submit your proposal online [url]
If you have trouble registering online, please contact us for an e-mail or paper form.
The deadline for submitting abstracts for proposed papers is 15 January 2008.

The deadline for proposing a panel is 15 January 2008.
If you wish to attend the conference, but will not be presenting a paper, you must nonetheless register online.

In order to maintain the conference focus and to minimise parallel sessions, acceptance of proposed papers or panels is not automatic. The organising committee will meet after the 15 January 2008, and applicants will be informed of its decisions on the 8 February 2008.

Final registration, accommodation and transport All accepted participants are required to finalise their registration by arranging their full conference payment by the 27 June 2008. If you wish to attend the conference, but will not be presenting a paper, you must nonetheless pay the full conference fee by the 27 June 2008. Details on payments, accommodation and transport will be sent by the organisers after registration.

Final submission of papers
Accepted papers must be submitted in electronic form to the organisers by no later than the 27 June 2008.

Copies of papers
The conference organisers will provide complete sets of all papers to all participants upon signing-in at Johannesburg.

More Information
The online conference web page contains more information, including a basic timetable, a schedule of registration fees:[url]

Do not hesitate to contact us with any queries: