Since the turn of the century the IISH has become the world leading institution in the field of global labour history, by combining social and economic approaches and focussing on the determinants of social inequality from the angle of labour and labour relations. We do this by creating and analysing structured long term data on labour relations, wages, migrations, commodity chains and labour conflicts in close collaboration with researchers throughout the world.
Our researchers have embraced a long-term globally comparative approach, stressing the diversity of forms of labour in the last five centuries, ranging from slavery to sharecropping, and from wage work to self-employment. We emphasize the global interconnectedness of world regions in the era of (thin to thick) globalisation since 1500.
In 2011, an international peer review committee called this "a paradigm-shifting development, which for the first time in two decades has given a sense of innovation and importance to the discipline of labour history more broadly." Whereas the committee in 2017 recognized the programme as ‘excellent/world leading’ and a ‘key player in the domain of labour history’.
In order to keep up with the most recent developments, our research program is constantly moving forward. Recently, partly thanks to the work of researchers such as Thomas Piketty, Walter Scheidel and Bas van Bavel, we have linked our research more explicitly to the theme of economic and social inequality and precarization. The IISH research program is ideally suited to contribute to this important theme by its global long-term perspective on the development of labour and labour relations.
Our central questions are: what mechanisms underlie the current increase in social inequality and the increasing flexibilisation of the labour market? And, secondly, under which conditions are workers (from high to low) remunerated in such a way that they can live a decent life? Or, to put it differently : how can changes in labour relations, embedded in larger societal structures, help us to understand ups-and-downs in long term patterns of social inequality, both within and between world regions?