The International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam conducts academic research on the history of work and labour relations. This worldwide research is focused on the last five hundred years of globalization (1500-2000). Work is examined in all its manifestations, from clerical positions to domestic service and from volunteer work to entrepreneurship. The term labour relations denotes the multiplicity of power relations in the course of performing work, from employment to entrepreneurship, from family settings to partnerships, and from slavery to wage labour.
Through our research, we aim to promote awareness of the causes and mechanisms underlying social and economic inequality between and within societies. The central question addressed is the connection between labour relations and the emergence, existence, and persistence of social and economic inequality. Do labour relations reflect existing patterns of social and economic inequality, or are labour relations also conducive to instigating and perpetuating such inequality?
The connection between remuneration and valuation of work on the one hand and social inequality or equality on the other hand is highlighted here. To achieve this, we systematically identify how work has been valued and remunerated globally in the past five centuries. In addition, we explore how people can individually or collectively influence this process. This includes offering clearer insight into urgent social issues and developments, such as precarization, forced labour, migration, and political polarization.
Global comparative history is crucial in this process, because it elucidates contemporary patterns and puts current hypes in perspective. National and international slavery debates, for example, reveal how exploitation from the past remains relevant to this day in defining the social and economic positions of the descendants of those who were enslaved. And, conversely, how centuries of European hegemony continue to influence patterns of global inequality. In addition, our focus on ‘work’ enables us to convey present-day transformations in the job market more accurately. Consider the ongoing globalization and the associated rising flexibilization, as well as responses to it among populist and authoritarian movements, both in and outside Europe.
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