Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850-1914

Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850-1914

Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850-1914

Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850-1914

Excerpt

This inquiry into the languages of labor and gender in Imperial Germany began over a decade ago during a dismal winter in the Prussian State Library in (then) West Berlin. The long days I spent perusing the Social Democratic and Communist women's papers from the Weimar period left me with a set of unanswered questions: about the implicit audience for these papers--the female workers who seemed to figure as objects rather than subjects of the so-called Frauenzeitungen--and about the particularly German genealogies of the identities and rhetorics of class that had come to dominate working-class politics by the turn of the twentieth century. As I worked, focusing on the textile industry as a site of particular gender conflict encompassing the arenas of shop floor and union politics, I confronted the problematic disjunctures between ideological prescriptions and everyday practices, between the discourses about female factory labor and the experiences of women workers. Having skirted the "outer face" of both workplace and unions, I sought to understand the complex moments of accommodation and resistance on the "inner face" of both (to appropriate a term from Alf Lüdtke). In the meantime the theoretical and historiographical contexts in which this inquiry was launched--women's history and labor history--were recast and replenished by the "new cultural history," by the shift to gender history and the critical rethinking by scholars in both fields of the key words "experience," "agency," "discourse," and "identity." My own work of rewriting began amid this sea of change, as I set out to analyze the implications of my empirical findings for the tenacious category of "class," to understand the origins of the ideologies of women's work that permeated each aspect of my inquiry, and to probe the complex ways in which both structural and rhetorical transformations shaped female factory work in Germany.

I pursued this quest in many academic and geographic milieus over the years, incurring many intellectual and personal debts. My list of thanks . . .

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