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Abstract: The Production of Work. Welfare, Labour-market and the Disputed Boundaries of Labour (1880-1938)

Since the late 19th century modern social welfare policy has established social insurances in certain formalized cases of non-work: in case of old age, illness, invalidity, and unemployment. Doing so, it gained importance to control the entitlement to social welfare, national affiliation, willingness or (in-)ability to work. These new regulations of work and non-work also manifested new concepts of work and vocation. Simultaneously and with reference to the new social status of labour and to the new social rights debates on vagrancy, begging and the work-shy relived a new boom. Who should receive help? Who is a threat to the greater public good by refusing labour? Not every way to find income was equally acknowledged as work. There was a variety of activities changeable between work, hunting for a job, non-work, begging and vagrancy. These activities were suspected of being a cover of work-shyness and ‘negative work’. Through that they belonged to a disputed sphere at the margins of welfare, labour market and criminality. Within this context unskilled, occasional, seasonal labour were further marginalized and subject of re-definition.

The erosion of standard employment relationship (Normalarbeitsverhältnis) and the increase of precarious forms of gainful work have been subject of recent political and sociological debates. The proposed project will historically analyse how – and against which other forms – dominant concepts of (vocational) work were established.  The project analyses these disputed boundaries of work. It will focus on Austria 1918-1938, but it aims at an international comparison and will consider relevant developments since the late 19th century, too. The project will study precarious forms of waged labour and non-work within the context of the organisations of labour market, search for employment and job placement. The project starts by analysing activities at the fringe of work, but it will not study them in isolation. How did concepts of vocational work and their binding character vary according to age, gender and ethnicity? In which ways were work and non-work defined? How were the distinctions and hierarchies practically implemented? How was the obligation to work practically handled and enforced? Of particular interest is the tramping of the unemployed and forms of integration, support and control of wayfarers being related to it.

Up to now, changes of work and the emergence of the welfare state have almost exclusively been described from the perspective of the state and of politics. The proposed project changes perspective, it intents to reconstruct the history of work by equally including the perspective and practises from the ‘margins’ which are regarded as a constitutive – but highly neglected – part of this historic change. How did people working or non-working contribute to the distinctions and hierarchies of work and non work in consensus and conflict? The project will analyse the practical efficacy of welfare and labour market regulations. This will shed new light on the meaning of work, unemployment and social relief. As a further result the project will gain a better understanding of attempts to control internal mobility. In many aspects the project will break new ground and open up new perspectives on the history of work and welfare.

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

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