Planning schedule for ITH conferences 2007


In September 2006 the ITH has decided to launch in 2007 a 3 year's conference program: "Labour History beyond borders". Conferences shall be organized to the following themes:

  • Transnational Networks of Labour
    43rd Linz Conference (September 13-16th, 2007)
  • Labour History in 'Emerging Countries'
    Supplementary conference in summer 2008
  • 1968 – A view on the protest movements 40 years later, in a global perspective.
    44th Linz Conference (September 2008)
  • Towards a transnational Labour History? "Labour History beyond borders" reviewed /
    The 'civilizing' function of the Labour movement.
    45th Linz Conference (September 2009)

In addition to its yearly conferences and regular cooperations with other institutions, ITH will try to function as a global network of people and institutions working in the field of Labour History in order to take up the impulses of the emerging labour history in the global "South" and thus contribute to a renewal and enrichment of European and North American historiography of Labour, the labour movement and related social movements. Aim of this dialogue is the formation of a transnational community of labour historians within which an exchange between "old" and "new" centres of this historiography takes place.




43rd Linz Conference (September 13-16th, 2007)

"Transnational Networks of Labour"



Conceptual outline:

"Transnational networks" are currently an important topic of globalisation studies. They are analysed as a main vector of the globalisation of knowledge, norms, attitudes, cultural practices and lifestyles. Eventually, current global development in economy, society and politics bring this topic into the focus of research. Thus, analysts of those evolutions which we characterise as "globalisation" have brought fluctuating networks as form of organisation of a dynamic "space of flows" (Manuel Castells) into discussion.

Research on transnational networks is a necessarily transdisciplinary enterprise. A sociological and historical approach can be integrated with a perspective both from the viewpoint of economic and political science and from the viewpoint of globalisation studies.

Networks are more informal, more fluid, less consolidated than organisations. In times of expansion of a deregulated global economy, non-governmental organisations prosper. Transnational networks communicate with this world of non-governmental organisations, but they are not identical with them. Structured organisations may function as visible nodal points of informal networks. The examination of networks focuses our view on interactions between structures (organisations) and individuals under the condition of spatial distance. It is therefore not surprising that the concept of "networks" has become topical in the debates on "globalisation", where "de-spatialisation", transcending of borders and world-wide networking operate.

The concept "transnational", as distinguished from the notions "international", "multinational" or "cosmopolitan", aims to express a new quality of entanglement engendering global networks and organisations which transcend the space of the nation state. Such networks and organisations cannot usefully be analyzed in the framework of nation states, because they are situated beyond such borders.


There is an opportunity here to draw the attention to a Labour movement which has, in its international and global aspirations, developed trans-national forms of networks and organizations, even if many remain at an "inter-national" level based essentially on the nation state. This contribution of the Labour movement to the history of "globalisation" has been largely overlooked. The Labour movement is not often associated with qualities like "transnational" and with "network" forms of organisation because it is predominantly associated with the nation state, within the framework of which it rose to influence in Europe. The nation state, in its contemporary form of welfare state, contains Labour as well as Capital within its borders. Networks are flourishing in "civil society" that keep the influence of the state out, as much as possible, and where the role of the world of Labour is marginal. "Transnational networks" are situated beyond the aegis of the nation state. But this is just one side of the history of Labour. On the other side, as mentioned, we find its forms of co-operation transcending the nation state.

It is an aim of the conference to focus the attention on such forms of transnational networks in the history of Labour, as actors in the history of "globalisation". Which forms of transnational networks emerged, and what was their contribution to the world-wide spread ("globalisation") of political attitudes, practices, lifestyles, forms of action and ways of thinking? Which epistemic networks emerged? On a micro level, the ITH itself may be analysed as an epistemic network uniting persons and institutes of similar thematic orientations. How did communication in those transnational networks function? Which forms of links between individuals and organisations? More generally, which distinctive marks of transnational networks of Labour can be observed?


Networks may be constituted by the circulation of people and networks may be constituted by the circulation of ideas, concepts, beliefs, attitudes, without the necessity that the people who make them circulate, move themselves in space. This simple distinction may serve to establish a basic structure of the conference. Networks that move people or, the other way round, come into being by the circulation of people, shall be distinguished from networks that move ideas, concepts, beliefs, attitudes, or come into being by the circulation of such ideas, concepts, beliefs and attitudes.


An alternative structuring could follow a differentiation of cultural spheres and of the distribution of power. The concept "transnational" should not obscure the fact that that, in most cases, networks with such a claim can nevertheless be fixed to certain spaces. Transnational networks also have a centre and a periphery. The rapid increase of transnationally operating non-state networks and "non-governmental organisations" corresponds to the "globalisation" of an economy evading state regulation. The centres of those networks and organisations operating in a trans-national identity are situated in the centres of global power, in the centres of the world economy. Values, ideas and practices spread by them are in principle compatible with values, ideas and practices in those areas, though they may not (yet) be held by the majority. The analysts of "transnational" trends, many of them themselves endowed with a transnational identity, are equally situated there as well as their institutes and their sponsors. Thus, the history of networks which are radically "alternative" – because substantially different in culture – is usually written in a perspective from these centres of global power. The conference will try to include in its perspective such "radically alternative" networks whose centres are/were not identical with centres of global power. One example could be the Communist International and its successor organisations.


A third structuring effort could distinguish types of networks of Labour following their forms of organisation and of action:

–         Networks connected with international organisations of the Labour movement, from loose associations like the 2nd International to efforts to steer a "World Party" like the Comintern.

–         Migration networks of all sorts of temporary and permanent expatriates: from mobility networks of workers to trans-nationally circulating elites of the Labour movement. This can be an opportunity to focus on political migration as a form of network communicating political concepts and lifestyles.

–         Advocacy networks emerging from trans-national lobby-groups as advocates of certain issues.

–         Transnational epistemic networks as organizers of knowledge-transfer networks of researchers, endowments, foundations, think tanks.

–         Consultancy networks – Political PR-consultants, spin doctors, consultants in International Development, experts in global norms and morality defining and certifying rules of correct conduct, corporate social responsibility, etc.

–         Networks of transnationally conceived social movements like the "Anti"- or "Alter-Globalisa­tion movement".


Preparatory committee:

Berthold Unfried (Vienna), Marcel van der Linden (Amsterdam), Jürgen Mittag (Bochum), Michael Schneider (Bonn)





Supplementary Conference in summer 2008

"Labour History in emerging countries"



In accordance with the future "North-South" – orientation of ITH, this conference will discuss the most important and innovative concepts, problems and results of Labour History in countries which we call, for want of a better word, "emerging countries". This category includes countries like India, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico or South Africa which display two characteristics: rapid development of the economy in the wake of economic globalization which induces important changes in Labour relations; and the emergence of an indigenous Labour History. This provisional category of emerging countries, in the mentioned double sense, may serve to characterize countries with economies closely entangled with the most advanced regions in the World Economy, but with Worlds of Labour different from the European and North American model.


The first part of the conference will be devoted to the definition of concepts.

Labour history developed in Europe and North America is working with concepts – wage labour, working class, industrial proletariat – which are only partly useful for the analysis in emerging countries of our time. Thus, their pertinence has to be questioned, as well as the pertinence of the concepts used in Labour History in those countries. More generally, the question is posed which concepts can serve as a basis for a Labour History in a global perspective.

Another problem to be discussed in this first part is the question of sources and archives. Historiography in emergent countries is confronted with specific problems: lack of written sources, bad conservation, lack of a public policy in archive matters, etc. The conference should offer opportunities to provide an overview on sources and archives of Labour in some of these countries. This part is especially suited to collaboration with IALHI (International Association of Labour History Institutions).


The second part of the conference will be devoted to problems of Labour history in and about emerging countries. We are not only interested in the historiography produced in these countries, but also in the historiography produced about these countries – what are the novel problems (eg. commodity chains and their implications for the workforce engaged in these chains), approaches and methods, and are there exemplary works à la E.P.Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class.

We are equally interested in the conditions that gave rise to a Labour history in emerging countries. Are there specialized institutions, a public policy fostering this type of historiography, networks, meetings, journals? What is the degree of professionalisation of Labour history, are there links with social and political movements, where are historians working in this field educated, what are the main tendencies and the dominating intellectual influences, how important are national and cultural bounds and to which degree is language limiting the epistemological scope of this historiography? Labour history has often been used as a means of constructing identities and of political legitimation. How is this situation now, what is at stake in emerging countries


Final remarks

The precise topics and panels of the outlined conference are still to be defined, in function of what seems really new and original to us. These choices have to be made on the basis of a close collaboration with colleagues working in and on emerging countries. Thus, it seems convenient to ask for a synthesis of the most important recent publications and ongoing research in the field of Labour history in countries like India, Brazil and South Africa. Those texts which could be published eventually, should facilitate our orientation and the definition of topics to be treated at the conference. The conference should favour approaches in a comparative perspective. The contributions should point out where and how they distinguish themselves from Labour history in Europe and Northern America, or where and how they converge with currents of this historiography.


Planned venue and cooperation partners:

In September 2008 the annual IALHI-conference will take place at Johannesburg. We are in a planning process to organize jointly with IALHI and History Workshop South Africa an ensuing substantive 2-3 day conference at the University of Witwatersrand. To this effect, a steering committee consisting of representatives of these potential partners has been constituted in February 2007.





44th Linz Conference (September 2008)

"1968 – A view on the protest movements 40 years later,
in a global perspective"



A thematical outline and a first draft of a program will be communicated in the next newsletter (presumably in July 2007).


Preparatory committee:

Marcel van der Linden (Amsterdam), Angelika Ebbinghaus (Bremen), Feliks Tych (Warsaw)




45th Linz Conference (September 2009)

"Towards a transnational Labour History?"



1. Interim results of the conference cycle "Labour History beyond borders"


The Linz Conference 2009 will discuss the results of ITH's three year's programme. In summary, it will take up the most promising and original results of the previous conferences 2007/2008 that could contribute to a tangible basis for a "Labour history beyond borders", including the borders of a perspective centred on the nation state, the borders of a specific actor or methodological borders. The conference will focus on findings about Labour and social protest movements in Asia and Latin America, especially on their forms of communication and interaction with "classical" Labour movements.


The overall aim of the conference is to include impulses from the global "South", in order to stimulate historiography in Europe and in North America – by showing essential topics, problems and methods for an analysis of a global and transnational history of Labour.

The conference could also evaluate to which degree the previous conferences 2007/2008 made up a stringent and coherent cycle on "transnational Labour history". Which new approaches and which new methods led to which new findings? Which conditions and which organisational and financial frameworks for the production of "transnational Labour history" can be discerned? Where and by whom is this history produced?


The second part of the conference shall be devoted to a comparative view of the historical role of Labour movements in Europe and of Labour movements in "emerging countries":


2. The 'civilizing' function of the Labour Movement


The 'civilizing' function of the Labour Movement will be examined in a twofold perspective:

–         The 'civilizing' impact on organized workers: This includes the whole complex of educational and 'cultural' efforts in a broad sense.

–         The 'civilizing' impact on elites in society. This includes efforts to 'domesticate' existing elites by a social-democratic economic policy as well as efforts towards their elimination by certain currents of the communist movement.

Both these political currents have in their specific way contributed to the emergence of comparatively homogeneous societies in Europe, and thus generated bases for the building of the welfare state in the past and present – e.g. regarding "transitional societies" in Central/Eastern Europe.


An aim of this second part of the conference is to re-integrate this achievement of the Labour movements into the scope of a "European memory" under construction, where the "Labour experience" is up to now largely absent. What has been in this sense the contribution of Labour to the emergence of the European welfare states, and thus to this layer of European identity? Can the role of Labour in today's "emerging countries" be usefully compared to the historical "civilizing function" of Labour in Europe?