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CfP: "Labour, gender and social mobility during the industrialization", 5th European Labour History Network Conference, Uppsala, Sweden, 11-13 June 2024

04-09-2023 11:54

In studies of social mobility, the industrialization debate maintains that in most European countries the pre-industrial period was relatively stable due to the social stratification based on blood lines and family inheritance, but that industrialization created an open society, in which social mobility was based on acquired characteristics such as education and work. However, recently it has been recognized that the issue of the relationship between modernity and social mobility is far from settled. In a range of social theories, even those that hold that social stratification has a multidimensional character, employment has been viewed as a better proxy of social inequality than education, income, or wealth. Indeed, classic studies on social mobility have massively used male occupation as a proxy for social inequality and mobility. Doubts about the industrialization debate deepen when considering that the hypotheses regarding mobility have been based solely on male social mobility, in the same way that the study of intergenerational mobility is based on transmission between males, from fathers to sons, the main determinant of mobility being the father's occupation. As far as female mobility is concerned, given the profound (and not always linear) historical changes in gender relations, our vision of social mobility in the transition from the ancien regime to modern societies may be fundamentally altered. In fact, several recent studies have examined female mobility and intergenerational transmission from mothers to daughters.

The industrialization debate is also being revised because of the incorporation in the debate of a larger and more complex set of determinants of mobility, including individual and institutional factors: political systems, systems of ownership and inheritance, religion, the educational system, family types, gender relations, and systems of work organization in terms of business culture and the activity of companies or unions.

From this more complex perspective, in the studies of social mobility as mobility over the course of a lifetime, changes in the world of work occupy a central place. These changes may disrupt systems of production and accumulated human capital, and they may generate new systems and new opportunities for social promotion, depending on the new organizational systems, the new skills required, and the new labour hierarchies. In both cases, adaptive strategies to face crises or new opportunities are never individual. They are inscribed in an institutional context that delimits the options and endows or restricts educational, occupational, and economic resources according to class, gender, ethnicity, religion, and wealth, and in a family context that activates personal, economic and cultural resources and relationship networks to strengthen their members’ chances of coping successfully with new situations, in which gender inequalities are often apparent.

In the nineteenth century, the political changes derived from the creation of the liberal State, technological changes and new ways of organizing work opened up new opportunities and destroyed others, thus making upward or downward mobility possible. However, given the segregation of labour markets and gender inequalities, men and women faced these moments of change with unequal resources.

This session aims to bring together studies on the effect of economic, productive and labour changes on the trajectories of individuals and their families and to analyse at a qualitative level the mechanisms that allowed social mobility in industrializing societies. The presentations should approach social mobility from this perspective. Some suggestions:

  • The destruction of the guild system opened up new opportunities for former masters and journeymen. How was this situation used? What was the result of this adaptation? How did these changes affect women’s work opportunities and mobility in the new liberal society?
  • The disappearance of commercial monopolies paved the way for the creation of shops and businesses of all kinds. What groups led the change? How did they take advantage of the new commercial mechanisms that were developed? What role did family play in this transformation? Did the liberal civil law expand or limit the options open to women in the new commercial and business activities?
  • There was a growing demand for architects, veterinarians, doctors… due to the new organization of the liberal state. The social prestige of these professions rose. Which social groups did they come from? Did their emergence represent a continuity or a break with previous schemes? What role did the state, professional associations and family play in the gender inequalities in the access to the new professions?
  • What was the origin of foremen, overseers, and company directors? What new opportunities did the construction of new textile factories offer?
  • Which occupations were affected by the opportunities arising from the reconversion of occupations from the ancien regime to the new liberal society? What economic and social spaces did they occupy? What social groups took advantage of it? How did these changes affect women social mobility?
  • What role does the family play in social mobility processes related to occupation?

How to apply

Please send a 500-word abstract and a short academic CV to Llorenç Ferrer-Alòs (llferrer[at] and Cinzia Lorandini (cinzia.lorandini[at] by 10 September 2023. The proposal should include name, surname, current affiliation and contact details of the proponent. The subject of the email needs to be: “Labour and Family Economy ELHN 2024”. If you have any further questions do not hesitate to contact the organizers.


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