CfP: Social inequality: what has work got to do with it?

Call for papers, deadline 1 May 2019

Social inequality: what has work got to do with it?

Since the publication of Piketty’s Capital in the twenty-first century in 2014 social inequality has become the talk of the town. Although the field as such is not new, with the ongoing process of globalisation and the rise of populist political movements the topic has gained urgency. Interestingly in the work of Piketty, but also others like Branko Milanovic, Walter Scheidel and Bas van Bavel, history plays a prominent role. Although the length of their long term analyses differs, they all aim to explain tipping points in the increase or decrease of social inequality. One element that remains relatively underexplored in these largely economic (and partly demographic) studies, however, is the significance of the organization of work for the distribution of wealth, income and social opportunities.

In economic and economic history approaches to inequality, as far as labour as a factor of production is factored in, it is limited to the quantity (offer) and quality (skills) of labour, with migration as a mediating mechanism to bring labour power where it is most needed. The often unspoken assumption is that workers react to the demand for labour and are rewarded depending on its scarcity. Reality, however, is much more complex, and if we want to better understand large inequalities in the remuneration and valuation of various kinds of work, between periods, regions, sectors and types of work, we need to move beyond basic supply and demand mechanisms.

In order to contribute to the discussion on the roots of social inequality and its developments over time in a global perspective, the workshop aims at bringing together specialists on the history of work, labour movements and labour relations. The workshop will focus on the impact of the organization of labour on inequality following three dimensions:

  1. Social inequality between countries (global) in the past centuries, including entangled comparisons between metropoles and dependent regions, either colonies or otherwise.
  2. Social inequalitiy within countries or regions, which focusses on distinctions between informal and formal work, paid and unpaid work, and structures of remuneration.
  3. Social inequalities between workers on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, political beliefs etc.

In all these dimensions changes over time are key and offer the possibility to detect underlying causes for a much broader explanation of patterns of social inequality.

The International Institute of Social History (IISH) organizes this workshop in Amsterdam on November 21-22, 2019 as part of its long tradition in the study of social movements and its long running research programme on global labour relations, which not only entails a much broader conception of what work is (both paid and unpaid), but also explicitly distinguishes between different kinds of labour relations (from slavery to self-employed) within prevailing power relations. Branco Milanovic and Walter Scheidel will be special guests and give public lectures. These power differentials not simply run along the fault line of labour and capital, but also between workers and societies. This touches upon what Göran Therborn has labelled ‘existential inequality‘, which embody forms of ‘durable inequality‘ (Charles Tilly) based on cultural notions of inferiority and superiority on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, political beliefs etc. For this workshop, we especially encourage papers that look for long-term patterns and include a comparative perspective.

Organisers: Pepijn Brandon, Karin Hofmeester, Marcel van der Linden and Leo Lucassen

Dead line for paper proposals: May 1, 2019

Dead-line for full papers: November 1, 2019

Contact address: Jacqueline Rutte ( )