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Working with plants in the field requires knowledge and led to practices...
...which were different from those that resulted from working with plants in the laboratory.

Semantics of Agricultural and Industrial Work. Knowledge, Metaphors of Production, and the Transformation of Work in the 19th and 20th Centuries

In the course of industrialisation, the forms, interpretations and practices of agricultural labour have been profoundly transformed. Since the middle of the 19th century, what constitutes modern, efficient and productive work has been defined primarily in terms of industrial premises. The transfer of these ideas to the agricultural sector was as much in need of adaptation as it was momentous.

This research project examines the interconnections and interactions between industrial and agricultural labour in the 19th and 20th centuries. The history of labour in this period has so far been written essentially as a history of industrial labour. This was accompanied by a certain narrowing of the view of industrial production contexts and forms of gainful and wage labour, which is again being opened up in current research. Little research has been done on how agricultural work in the 19th and 20th centuries developed in interaction with industrial ideas of work, how mechanisation and motorisation, scientific management and modern rationalisation imperatives affected agricultural working environments and how forms, practices and interpretations of work changed in these contexts.

On the basis of newly accessible source material, this project develops a new view of the history of labour by asking how the diverse forms of agricultural labour were embedded in industrial-social contexts and by focusing on the interconnections, mutual knowledge transfers and appropriation processes. The interplay between the production and implementation of labour knowledge, the semantics of labour concepts and production metaphors, as well as the different potentials and limits of biotic and mineral resources, with which labour in agriculture and industry is primarily concerned in this period, is the guiding principle.

The project integrates approaches of knowledge history and historical semantics with an empirical approach close to the source. By illuminating the multifaceted interactions between work in rural and urban, agricultural and industrial as well as family economic and factory-industrial contexts of action, a contribution is made to a better understanding of the history of work in the 19th and 20th centuries and a topic of great social explosiveness is addressed, since the "crisis of work", which has already been diagnosed several times, generates a growing need for historical interpretation of forms of work beyond the "norm" of industrial wage labour.

The three-year project (2017-2019) will be led by Peter Moser. The main researcher, Juri Auderset, will be a Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as part of the project.