European Labour History Network - ELHN
Working Group on "Factory History"
The European Labour History Network (ELHN)
The founding meeting of the ELHN took place at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) on 12 October 2013. The forty scholars who gathered in Amsterdam, belonging to research institutions, archives and journals based in various European countries, felt the need to increase the cooperation among labour history scholars, share knowledge and (digital) material, create a platform for future collective research, and organize conferences and seminars. The Network will primarily include Europe-based scholars (professors, post-doc and PhD researchers, post-graduate students) but will also seek to connect with scholars based outside Europe.
It was agreed to circulate information through Labnet (http://www.socialhistoryportal.org/labnet/), the Social History Portal (http://www.socialhistoryportal.org/) and a virtual environment electronic discussion platform (forthcoming); a meeting of the journals group in Vienna will be held during the ESSHC; a first broad conference will be organized, probably in 2015, in conjunction with another event in the field.
A provisional coordination committee was appointed, whose members are: Marcel van der Linden, Stefano Musso, Silke Neunsinger, Leda Papastefanaki, Tibor Valuch, Xavier Vigna, Donald Weber and Susan Zimmermann.
In order to structure the network and overcome fragmentation, the key-role of working groups was underlined. Some working groups were proposed and are now taking shape. Among others: Long term perspectives on remuneration; Pre-industrial Labour; Feminist Labour History; Industrial heritage and structural change; workers politics and social movements; Imperial labour history.
The ELHN Working Group on “Factory History”
Although factories are the sites where industrial workers experience exploitation in most concrete terms, factory history has not received much attention from labour historians. The ELHN working group on “Factory History” starts from the premise that factory level analysis deserves special attention for it could enrich labour history in a number of ways some of which are listed below:
• It is at the factory level that the concrete experience of proletarianization takes place. The shopfloor dynamics of that process constitute a vital part of both the objective and subjective dimensions of working-class formation. Focusing our attention on the level of factory not only enriches the historical details of that process, it also allows the historian to depict the dense and non-deterministic web of interrelationships at the point of production.
• Through studying the relations in production at the factory level, the connections between the labour process and the changes in workers' consciousness and their individual and collective political behaviour could be depicted. Also, factory level analysis makes the divisions within the labour force most visible. Divisions among workers along the lines of skill and pay levels could be studied at the factory level. Documenting this heterogeneity could also be helpful in understanding different types and levels of militancy, shop loyalty, alienation, and competition among workers. Moreover, a systematic study of factory files could bring the hidden, isolated, sporadic instances of resistance to surface.
• Factory level analysis allows for a dynamic, fluid depiction of how the microcosmos of the workplace relates to its social environment. It allows the historian to analyse connections between the political regime and the factory regime by way of documenting the ways in which the changing political-economical and ideological parameters affect the labour relations on the shopfloor. As such, the discursive changes in labour relations on the shopfloor are understood within the broader context of state-worker relations and issues such as working-class citizenship and state-worker relations are incorporated to labour history.
• On the factory level, it is sometimes possible to follow individual workers on the shop floor by means of bringing various types of archival material together. As such, factory level analysis allows historians to see the worker as an individual against the tendency to study workers as a collectivity. The resulting rich array of details could shed light on the mentality of workers at a given time by way of connecting work-related experience and its perception by the workers to the choices they make on and outside the shopfloor.
• Studying a single factory requires that the management is also given special attention. The study of the shaping and reshaping of the form and content of the managerial practices in relation to workers’ resistance practices paves the way for a more dynamic depiction of the relations between management ideologies and practices and workers’ reactions to these. Similarly, analysing the changes in the ownership patterns could shed light on their effects on labour relations.
• Last but not least, the factory is the space of the everyday. The factory site is where space, mentality and ideology are materialised. It is at the factory that the expropriation of surplus begins and workers’ first –only sometimes mediated- reactions to that appropriation are displayed. A close historical study of these reactions allows us to see how that experience shapes workers’ self-perception and the discursive formations of working-class politics.
The working group has two goals. The first goal is to map the field by sharing information on the existing factory monographs and to establish a network of researchers whose work relates broadly to factory history, and beyond that, of those interested in the subject. To this end, a database will be built and systematically updated, and responses to the questionnaire circulated together with this presentation letter will be the main source of this database. It is hoped that this database will provide a preliminary mapping of the existing studies as well as stimulate new research on factory history.
The second aim is to share knowledge, information on available sources, and to provide a forum for discussion. The network will assist the communication and the circulation of Calls for Papers, research proposals, forthcoming publications, doctoral dissertations and facilitate the creation of session-proposals across themes and topics. As such, the working group will act as a “hub” to organize and design new research, collective projects, etc. connecting the European network to national ones.
In order to get acquainted with each other and discuss possible future activities of the working group, the proposal is to meet during the next major continental conference, the ESSHC in Vienna. The exact place and time will be communicated some weeks before the conference.
For any comments and suggestions, please contact the provisional coordinator of the working group:
+90 531 2951344
European Labour History Network – ELHN
Working Group on Factory History
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• Organize and design collective projects
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