CfP: Moving Labour Conference

Call for papers, deadline 5 April 2021

The integral contribution of mobile, migrant and transient workers to the development of early and late-modern European agriculture, industry and commerce has been increasingly recognized by labour and migration historians alike. While scholars of these fields have traditionally focused on the young migrant male and the industrial labourer, the diversity of itinerant workers has since the 1970s been underlined, as well as the complexity of transnational, regional and local moves. Race, gender, skills and socio-economic conditions have had an impact on itinerant workers' position in the labour markets: they could in turn represent a pool of cheap labour in times of crisis or cultural brokers for new technologies and techniques. 


This conference aims to add to this growing body of work. It will pay particular attention to the imbrication of the different scales and temporalities of labour mobility and the complex nature of the circulation of people and goods. Its dual objective is to examine the resources that made labour mobility possible (be it in terms of networks, infrastructures or institutions) as well as the cultural history of itinerant labour. It also aims to add to a broad history of labour by looking at workers’ practices and strategies, whether in the workplace or in their daily life.


We welcome papers that explore Moving Labour from a range of angles including historical, cultural, sociological, ethnological, folklore, gender, microhistorical, and migration studies perspectives. 


Topics might include, but are not limited to: 

  • The “cultural history” and representations of itinerant labour: 

    • How itinerant labourers were perceived, labeled by the authorities, and persecuted (e.g. in regulation, police oppression, racism)

    • How itinerant labourers were regarded by the settled population; the construction of itinerant labourers as ‘ethnic others’, ‘different’, ‘outsiders’ or ‘strangers’ 

    • How they perceived themselves; the relationships between itinerant labour and itinerant communities 

    • The visual culture of itinerant labour 

  • The diversity of itinerant workers e.g. gender, ethnic, race, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds

  • The material culture of  itinerant labour and the transfers it entailed (technology, fashion, cultural elements, labour/trade encounters)

  • Networks of moving labour and its practicalities:

    • Migrants/movers networks, transport networks

    • Consumer/client/employer networks

    • Commodities/provider networks

    • Labour organisation or lack thereof

  • Temporality and geography of moving labour:

    • Scales of mobility e.g. micro-spatial histories versus transnational spaces of itinerant labour 

    • Spaces/geography of itinerant labour - urban vs rural, the ‘streets’ as a centre of itinerant labour,  important spaces/places, different locations are associated with different stages of the life cycle or at different times of the year 

    • Time - moving labour could be temporary in a time of crisis, seasonal or a permanent occupation 


Send an abstract of not more than 300 words to Léa Leboissetier and Eliza McKee by the deadline: 5th April 2021. Abstracts can be submitted in English or French. 


The abstract should include the Author(s), Corresponding Author Affiliation(s), Title of Paper, a 300-word Abstract, and a Biography of no more than 50 words. Please send in Microsoft word format to email address: