ELHN Conference 2017 – CFP « Imperial Labour History and the Global Turn »

Labour historians have been particularly attuned to the global turn. Over the last decade labour historians have become not only more global in their outlook, but they have also begun to pay greater attention to subjects that speak to contemporary concerns associated with globalization. This has given rise to a number of studies considering a diverse array of subjects, including ‘global’ occupations, forms of free and unfree labour migration, and the global dimensions of working-class formation. The benefits of this global approach are immeasurable. Among other things it has highlighted the importance of studying labour in globalized sectors over the longue durée; it has brought into question the teleological assumption that labour movements inevitably develop a national character; and it has underscored the point that working-class formation was driven by processes that occurred across territorial borders. The danger with global approaches, however, is that they can flatten and homogenize the experience of labour, emphasizing connection over disconnection, and privileging subaltern agency, co-operation, and mobility over class-, gender-, and race-based hierarchies of power. These issues are particularly pertinent to colonial contexts. Racialised labour recruitment practices, punitive and draconian labour legislation, and the deployment of state violence in response to worker protest all served to accentuate differences and inhibit collective action. Put simply, the task for labour historians is to focus not only the ‘free’ movement of labour and the associated flow of ideas, discourses, and practices across territorial borders but to investigate the role of coercion and state regulation in facilitating and restricting such movements.

For the second European Labour History Network conference, the co-ordinators of the Imperial Labour History group welcome proposals for twenty-minute papers. Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • The movement and regulation of labour across colonial and imperial borders.
  • Transnational or ‘trans-colonial’ labour activism.
  • Transnational and global occupations, such as dockworkers and sailors.
  • International organisations concerned with the promotion of labour and trade union rights.
  • The role of regional and international trade union organisations in colonial and post-colonial contexts.
  • Labour in cosmopolitan contexts.
  • Labour and anti-colonial nationalism.
  • Statist approaches to global labour history.
  • The place of race, class and/or gender in global labour history.

The co-ordinators welcome proposals that consider any of these issues in relation to the European empires, as well as the contiguous empires of East Asia and the United States. Chronologically, the focus of the papers should be on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Proposals should be submitted to Yann Beliard (yann.beliard@univ-paris3.fr) and Gareth Curless (g.m.curless@exeter.ac.uk) by 31th May.