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Bielefeld Graduate School

in History and Sociology

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Work in a Globalising World: Gender, Mobility, Markets

5th Annual Seminar of the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS), 8-10 April 2013

Annual Seminar 2013

The concept of work has been a key topic in both history and sociology since the early days of these disciplines. Up to the end of the 20th century the sociology of work as well as social history and the history of labour analysed work within the framework of the nation state and national institutional settings. During the last decade, however, it has become clear that this perspective is too narrow: Global history has shown that work is too heterogeneous a concept to be understood within national or regional borders. During the epochs of colonisation and industrialisation, working environments and the respective labour markets underwent changes that were interwoven on global, national, regional, and local levels. Mobility studies have revealed that in the 19th and 20th centuries, long-distance migration beyond the slave trade increased dramatically, even though during this period there were alternating decades of acceleration and slowdowns, and the relations between mobility within a certain society and transnational migration varied considerably.

Global history has recently again brought to the fore basic questions about the concept of work itself: What constitutes work and how is it differentiated from non-work? Who has the authority to define this? How is work constituted in different societies and different world regions? What counts as legitimate work, and what is considered illegal? How do the ways work is constituted and defined affect the life cycles of individuals, the relations within families, gender relations, and relations between hegemonic subjects and subalterns? What role does work play in the process of subject formation both in the past and the present? To what extent are the historical and current definitions of work tied to capitalism? These questions, among others, have been discussed on the interdisciplinary Annual Seminar 2013.

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