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Work – Employment – Vocation.

The Production of Differences and Hierarchies of Livelihood in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Since the late nineteenth century, work radically changed in its form and content in Western nation states. Paid employment was normalized as the legitimate way to gain one’s livelihood. Moreover, employment began to require aptitude, affinity, and training as well as steadfastness and dedication: it required a vocation, profession, métier, état, profession, Beruf, and so on.

The German term Beruf is perhaps the best example. The idea that a Beruf was more and more necessary or essential for all persons in a given polity emerged as recently as the first half of the twentieth century in a history of various struggles to redefine work. Every occupation was soon supposed to become a particular case of Beruf. Although there still were (and are) diverse possibilities for making a living and the inclusion of some (e.g. housework) was disputed, Beruf emerged as the benchmark for assessing them. Not only were policy-makers, official institutions, political and economic organizations and trade associations involved in the struggles to establish Beruf, but so were individuals who in any number of ways received and/or organized a livelihood. They participated by accepting new offers and demands, by making an effort to attain a life-long vocation – or instead by doing something different, such as pursuing long-standing opportunities like farm or domestic service or new ones like unskilled labour and leisure time.

A history of Beruf can therefore not be written if the manifold ways people sustained and altered their livelihoods are omitted. This holds true for its homologues in other nation states, too.

The workshop will explore how new hierarchies of ways to earn a living were established in national labour markets, focussing on the most legitimate references like vocation, profession, métier, or Beruf. This includes questions of state policy, professional organization, vocational training and counselling as well as how boundaries towards other (new) institutions as housework, domestic service, unskilled labour, and leisure time were put into practice.

Production of Work
Institut für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte
schaftliche Fakultät
Universität Wien

Universitätsring 1
A-1010 Wien

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