Ateliers > Temps de travail



Time & Work


Session 1 : Jeudi 2 novembre 10h30 -12h30


Mot d'accueil et introduction


What Were Working Hours and Why Do We Want to Know About Them?

Lex Heerma van Voss


Based on an overview of the literature on working hours and the papers presented to the session, and as a way to kick off the debate in the session, this presentation poses two questions:.

The first question is what we now about the overall development of working hours, how we know that, and what are the pitfalls in assessing the meaning of what we know (for instance: how are working hours related to work pace and productivity).

The second question is why we are interested in the history of working hours. The vantages points discussed will be:

- social history, the history of work, exploitation and of the labour movement

- economic history, the history of capitalism, productivity and international competition

- the history of leisure.



 Does Time Matter in Preindustrial Work?

Corine Maitte/Didier Terrier


Since the famous article of E.P. Thompson in 1967 (“Time, Work-Discipline and industrial capitalism”), innovative research to measure working hours and their evolution has mainly been conducted by Anglo-saxons. A large body of work has considered the respective roles of both labor and capital input in the English Industrial Revolution. Although, empirical studies that actually measure the work time of groups of workers before and during the "Industrial Revolution" are finally extremely limited. But there are almost inexistent in the Continent. But our aim is not to concentrate only on the Industrial Revolution, even it is a part of our research. A very large chronology is needed to understand the many challenges around the question of working hours over a long period and not only between 1750 and the 1850. If debates about working hours escalated in the 19th century, we think that it was already a question of great interest well before. The second challenge is in fact Jan de Vries thesis about an “industrious revolution” that raises many problems, already discussed by historians. The main one is the rather ideological assumptions of De Vries’ theory and the relative weakness of his empirical studies. By the way, all researches concentrated on Protestant Europe and accentuate the idea of a rather great European internal divergence between protestant and catholic countries. This idea has also been emphased by Max Engammare’s book about the “invention of the punctuality”, not in the Puritan groups of England but in the Calvinist Geneva of the 16th century. Our simple idea is that nothing of this can be proved on solid bases if we know almost nothing about working years and days in catholic Europe before the XIXth century. We will try to show with some empirical examples (specially from textile and glassblowing sectors in France and Italy) that 1) length of working year is not so different between catholic and protestant countries 2) the main problem is that working days are not necessary days of effective work 3) the length of working day was already a matter of conflict in some sectors long before the 19th c. 4) the quantity of work done in an hour were already at the agenda of some entrepreneurs in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries and brought, particularly in France, to some great conflicts between entrepreneurs and workers in the XVIIIth century.



 Real Income and Economic Growth in England, 1260–1850

Jane Humphries/Jacob Weisdorf


Existing accounts of workers’ earnings in the past suffer from the fundamental problem that annual incomes are inferred from day wages without knowing the length of the working year.

We circumvent this problem by presenting a novel income series for male workers employed on annual contracts. We use evidence of labour market arbitrage to argue that existing estimates of annual incomes in England are badly off target, because theyoverestimate the medieval working year but underestimate the working year during the industrial revolution. Our revised income estimates suggests that modern economic growth began more than two centuries earlier than commonly thought and was driven by an early and continuing ‘Industrious Revolution’.


 Discussion (30-35 min)



Session 2 : jeudi 2 novembre, 14h-15h30


Why did Workers Fight for Shorter Hours? A Comparative Study of Changing Rationalities in the Late 19th and late 20th Century

Philipp Reick


In the second half of the nineteenth century, the shorter workday became the battle cry for early trade unions and young socialist parties alike. Similar to neighboring countries, the nascent world of German labor rallied enthusiastically behind the call for shorter hours. As the century drew to a close, numerous unions were able to enforce ten-hour workdays while some sectors and businesses met their employees’ long-time demand by introducing eight-hour shifts. Following legislative implementation in the early twentieth century and several decades of continuous conflict over hours, the 1970s and 1980s witnessed a dramatic climax as West German metalworkers and printers fought for the introduction of a 35-hour workweek.

While this portrayal captures the historical shorter-hour movement’s dynamics, it implies that that the struggle progressed in a linear fashion. Yet when comparing the reasons put forward by organized German workers in the late nineteenth and late twentieth century, we find that shorter-hour rationalities in fact differed profoundly. In this presentation, I first explore the strikingly diverse justification provided by German shorter-hour activists in the 1870s and 1880s. Drawing on a broad sample of trade union publications, I then illustrate the main reasons formulated during the massive shorter-hour campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. Analyzing the similarities and difference in late-nineteenth vs. late-twentieth-century labor discourse, I will finally offer some insight into why shorter-hour rationalities have changed so dramatically – and what this might mean for working time struggles in the present.



Emotional Temporalities: Psychological Repertoires and British Holiday Legislation, 1871–1914

Yaara Benger Alaluf


Much research has been dedicated to the process of reduction of working time and holiday legislation in Britain, which became a model for other western countries around the turn of the century. Yet, this paper focuses on previously neglected factor, namely the role that psychological repertoires played in the democratization of long holidays. Indeed, health considerations were present in the early Victorian debate on working hours, mainly for preventing injuries and securing efficiency. However, from the 1870s onwards the growing interest in the emotional implications of daily life and their pathological formulation were reshaping the medical discourse on work. Whereas somatic disorders were believed to threat industrial workers more than clerks and affect women more than men, the nervous and emotional malaises of work applied equally to both sexes and to diverse occupations. By framing the “problem” of work under a seemingly universalist pathologization of emotions, the medical discourse both facilitated the increasingly inclusive holiday legislation and added an emotional essence to the spatio-temporal differentiation between work and leisure. Through the analysis of diverse source material, including Parliamentary papers, documents of the workers’ unions and medical literature, this paper discloses the influence of the growing medical interest in emotional experiences on the political debate on working hours and holiday legislation. Additionally, by tracing the argument that Bank Holidays were not invented for “mere recovery from the fatigues of toil,” but rather to “be a real addition to happiness,” the paper points to the entanglement of emotional and economic discourses in 1871-1914 Britain, period which should be regarded as an important historical precursor for the subsequent development and consolidation of emotional consumerist leisure.




“Who Knows what Conti Shifts Mean…” Assessing Night and Shift Work in Germany in the Late 20th Century

Hannah Ahlheim


 What work load means, you only know when you’re back home . . .” This was the title of a small exhibition initiated by unionists, shift workers, and their families that was displayed in the German city of Dortmund in 1986. The exhibition project was part of a larger research pro-gram with the theme of “Humanization of the Workplace” implemented by the German gov-ernment in 1974.

In the second half of the 20th century, night and shift work and its impact on private lives as well as the health and the productivity of workers and employees had coalesced into a “core theme” of scientific and political debates over the organization of the workday in Western in-dustrialized societies. Due to automation, new forms of continuous working processes, and the effects of globalization, the percentage of workers employed in night and shiftwork steadily increased even beyond what was normal in traditional night-work professions. Like no other form of working-time organization, night and shift work shaped the social lives of employees. In Dortmund, a marital bed was to be found at the center of the exhibition. Even the very basic bodily functions and the most intimate spheres in the lives of shift workers had to be adapted to the rhythms of work. German experts spoke of a form of “apartheid” (Zayer) under which shift workers had to live, unable to follow the usual daytime routines of the majority.

Beginning with the Dortmund exhibition project, in my talk I will explore how shift workers and their families tried to come to terms with their working hours during the period under study. Furthermore, I will sketch how social and economic problems posed by night and shift work fostered new research on a national as well as an international level. Not only the work-place but also the bed and the flat of a shift worker now became a “project” for several groups of experts. Thus, I will also touch on general debates over the governing of working hours in the late 20th century.



Discussion + Conclusion (30 min)







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