Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CALL FOR PAPERS - Eleventh International Conference on Labour History

Eleventh International Conference on Labour History


21-23 MARCH 2016

The Theme: Workers, Labour and Mediation
Mediation as a broad category, applies to the predicament of workers and the phenomenon of labour almost universally. It may be approached via the simple observation that the relation between workers and capitalists is rarely direct, that it requires mediation at every step, from recruitment to political representation. Mediation does not merely link two opposed social groups or interests but sometimes the mediating element rises above and exercises power over the extremes- the case in point is the role played by the modern state in capitalist society. The issue of mediation generates important sociological and theoretical questions about class relations in general . 

What are the various forms of mediation, and why is it necessary? How have forms of mediation – that marks labour’s relation with society –changed over time? What social strata perform mediatory roles, and what, in turn emerges as a ‘mediatory interest’ when they become a stable social-economic force? How do workers deal with the phenomenon of mediation, and how do they negotiate with the people engaged in mediation? How do political ideologies subsume labour in their representational function? Such questions can provide themes for many agendas of research, and enrich our understanding of labour history. 

We invite scholars to investigate the following themes, with a focus on the concept of mediation

1. Mediation and the labour process
Setting the work process in motion and thereafter keeping it functional involves several kinds of mediation. These begin with mediated recruitment; and carry on into various forms of supervision and methods of disciplining the workforce. Each of these involved complex activities which throw up interesting questions. How are the recruiters themselves recruited? How do they achieve their goals, what kind of transactions accompany the process? Are recruiters themselves workers - do gang-leaders in mining, for example, perform tasks of recruitment and supervision? 

What are the mediations through which relations between workers, recruiters, foremen, headmen, and contractors are articulated? How do gang leaders represent worker’s interests, and how are these interests perceived and articulated? How does recruitment operate in particular contexts: for instance, in densely populated cities with a large floating population of casual workers? Supervision calibrates the work process, standardizes the rhythms and pace of work according to the demands of capital. How do different practices of supervision, different regimes of work and discipline emerge? Who performs the task of disciplining? How are disciplinary practices contested? What are the norms through which ‘informal’ regimes of work are disciplined and regulated?

2. Political mediation Various forms of political mediation are important to the way in which individual labour emerges as a social category– with specific interests and collective political presence. We need to examine the arguments, assumptions and historical processes whereby labour emerges as a designated social interest. How does the state mediate the interest of labour, and how do class interests manifest themselves in state policy? What role do major state institutions such as the police and judiciary, labour courts, labour inspectors and other regulatory structures of various kind play in mediating class interest? By what process of mediation are workers’ demands articulated? 

What role do trade unions play in this process? Trade unions often emerge organically, and many also make political choices in the firmament of existing political factions. Is a micro-history of this process possible? How do unions form and disintegrate? Can we study other modes of representation, such as strike and factory committees or even mutual aid societies? What are the forms through which ‘contract’ workers, home-based workers or those in small establishments organize and represent their interests? 

It is a commonplace that the labour movement played a major role in the emergence of democracy. Moreover, entire schools of political thought have adopted sympathetic, instrumentalist and even hegemonic stances towards the so-called ‘short term interests’ and/or the ‘historic destiny’ of the working class. Can these schools of thought be understood as attempts at ideological mediation between the interests of labour and the interests of capital speaking as the universal interest?

What do interventions by politically affiliated unions signify – may these be analysed within the theoretical frame of mediation? Historically political parties have played an important role in giving labour a public presence. Conversely their shifting interests have also meant a shrinking space of labour in the political arena. Why do political parties take up the interests of labour at all? What happens when they do so - in residential areas and in the workplace? Do workers perceive class interest directly, or is this mediated via concepts of the national interest?

3. Law and Mediation Within bourgeois society all relations between individuals are mediated by law. Individuals become citizens with specific rights, are subjected to law, and their conduct and actions are bounded by law. Relations between capital and labour are mediated by specific laws, the lives of labourers are regulated by law, and their claims and obligations are framed by law. We need to explore how law comes to mediate all labour relations – the forms of this mediation and the limits to this mediation. Why are specific forms of labour designated as legal/illegal? How are the changing needs of capital incorporated within law, sanctioning specific forms of exploitation and control as acceptable and legitimate? How do we read the specific histories of labour legislations and unpack the languages of law that define the structures of legal regimes within which workers labour.

4. Social Mediation Workers rarely see themselves or are seen by the society or state simply or even primarily as workers. They often are caught up in a web of mediated social relations that emanate from interalia their position in the household, neighbourhood, as gendered beings and as members of religious and caste groups and as citizens of nation state . In what ways then are worker’s identity mediated through specific social institutions? In what contexts do labouring identities coexist, contest or are overwhelmed by these forms of mediations? 

How have war and sectarian conflicts affected labouring identities and institutions of labour movement? How do workers relate to religion? Has the noticeable shift in public religiosity – from emotional or existential sustenance to a badge of identity affected the working class? Does the concept of mediation apply at all when we speak of religion and its impact on the working class.

5. Cultural Mediation It will be important to explore how culture and cultural mediations shape and transform labour and its representations. Workers live within a world of representations. Newspapers, televisions, images, films mediate the relations between workers and the wider society. Workers see themselves through these images, question as well as affirm these images, see the world through these images. The wider society sees workers through these images. Within the modern world of spectacle, representations appear as a constitutive mediator, shaping workers lives and visions of the world.

We need to unpack these representations that mediate the worlds of labour. What are the ways in which they mediate? What are the limits to these mediations? How are counter images produced and circulated? How do people receive the mediating images, affirm their sanctity or question their validity? What does this tell us about public opinion and its manipulation? We invite papers from scholars, activists, and individuals who have engaged intimately with the world of labour and work to participate in this conference. International and comparative experiences will be especially welcome. We will also welcome papers on the pre-colonial and pre-modern and contemporary historical experiences. While the conference organizers will be able to host all the selected participants for the duration of the conference we are unable to finance international travel costs.

Submission of papers: A short abstract of no more than 500 words of the proposed paper indicating the main arguments and theoretical and empirical basis of the proposed paper is to be submitted electronically to the address: <> 

We expect abstracts to be sent to us by 15 August 2015 

Selected participants will be informed by 15 September 2015 

Full Papers are expected without fail by 20 January 2016

All communications must be addressed to 
Chitra Joshi, 
Rana Behal,
Prabhu Mohapatra and 
Sasikumar - at this address: <>