Michela Barbot (ENS Cachan, Paris), Fabrice Boudjaaba (CRH-EHESS Paris), Andrea Caracausi
(University of Padua), Luca Mocarelli (Bicocca University, Milan)
“Labour” and “Economics”
Work and Property in Europe (1500-1900): Toward a Connected History
General Aims of the Project
Over the last decades the history of property rights and the history of work have been deeply renewed.
Recent investigations have challenged the traditional idea that the rise of European capitalism was due
to a linear transition from ‘non-private’ to ‘private’ property and from ‘non-commodified’ to
‘commodified’ labour (Grossi 1992; Brass, Van der Linden 1997; Steinfeld 2001). Different
institutional forms coexisted indeed for many centuries, far beyond the Industrial Revolution.
Despite this new evidence, few studies have analysed the historical evolution of work and property
together. This absence is regrettable. Work and property were indeed both at the basis of the social
inclusion, citizenship rights and other fundamental institutional devices which are usually considered as
typical of the economic growth and political modernity. Therefore an analysis that jointly investigates
the evolution of the forms of property and work could significantly help to better clarify the historical
mechanisms of development and modernization.
Following this perspective several key questions remain still open. They can be summarized as follow:
how did ‘work’ and ‘property’ as historical institutions reciprocally interact, and, in turn, which were
the socioeconomic implications of this interaction? This macro-session aims to answer to these
questions, investigating the relationship between labour and property using a wide European
comparison and a long-term perspective, since the 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century.
This wide perspective will allow us to evaluate the impact on ownership and work practices of some
outstanding legal changes, such as the movement of English enclosures, the 1804 French Civil Code, or
the Second Serfdom in the Eastern Europe.
Starting from the main research questions sketched above, we welcome papers articulated around three
major research lines, which reflect three different sub-sessions:
Sub-session 1. Communities, households, individuals
In this first research sub-session we encourage papers dealing with the analysis of the role of the
various historical property regimes (private, collective, dissociated, etc.) and labour relations (free and
unfree labour; reciprocal and wage labour) in the (supposed) process of ‘emancipation’ of individuals
from family or communities. More specifically, we would like to understand: (a) If, and how were the
forms of work and property based on the model of the domestic household and (b) how did the
relations between household systems, property regimes and labour organisations evolve across
Sub-session 2. Appropriations, dispossession, capabilities
Until recently, the history of the industrial revolution has been seen as a process of dispossession
started in Europe since the agricultural enclosures. Following this interpretation, the closure of open
fields had two main effects: the spread of a culture of a ‘full owner’ and the transformation of a mass of
landless peasants excluded from their communities into an exploited and unskilled working class. In
our opinion, this too rigid interpretation could be questioned. We argue that the integration of wage
labour in a series of rules and contractual arrangements may have contributed to the development of a
set of individual or collective ‘capabilities’ (in line with the interpretation of Amartya Sen), which were
able to generate inclusion and improve labour skills rather than create division, separation or
exploitation. The two main questions here will be: (a) how did property rights and labour relations help,
or dampen, the process of acquisition of skills in the various times and context? (b) Was there a
relationship between the fragility/imperfection/uncertainty of property rights and the ‘precariousness’
in labour relations? How did the status of owners interact with the professional status?
Sub-session 3. Embeddedness, evaluation and commodification
A third line of research would test the (‘supposed’) progressive depersonalization and commodification
of economic relations in property and labour systems. The basic question can be expressed as follow:
the Polanyi’s hypothesis concerning the “disembeddedness” of the economy from society starting back
from the Industrial Revolution can be proved comparing and connecting the histories of property and
work? The authors are invited to reflect on these points: (1) when, how and why did the work turn into
a commodity? (2) Did the emergence of full private property have some effects on contractual
conditions and negotiations between employers and employees in labour relations, especially in term of
wages fixation and working times?
We welcome both micro-historical studies on single cities or communities and macro-approaches on
entire regions and States. From a micro perspective, our aim is to compare urban and rural contexts, in
order to understand when and how the so-called ‘modern’ concepts of property and work appeared first.
From a macro perspective, we would explore the property and labour ‘divergences’ within Europe, in
order to better highlight the role played by these two institutions in the supposed ‘Great Divergence’
between continental Europe and Great Britain, as well as between Eastern and Western Europe.
Authors should indicate in which sub-session the paper refers.
Abstracts (100-500 words) and one-half page CV have to be sent by 25 April 2013 to: