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Conf/CfP - An Odd Couple. Work and Leisure in Industrialized Societies of the 19th and 20th Centuries, 21-23 January 2016, Vienna, Austria


July 15, 2015

Event Date:

January 21, 2016 - January 23, 2016

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The “crisis of labor”, “work-life-balance”, the dangers of too much leisure, and “overwork” are but a few catchphrases which hint at numerous attempts to define and interrelate work and leisure as two fundamental categories of industrialized societies since the late 19th century. The fears, hopes, and expectations that came with redefining the relationship between work and leisure differed widely depending on temporal, cultural, social, and political contexts. Distinguishing between work and leisure helped, on the one hand, to debate important phenomena and problems of industrialized societies but on the other hand the concepts soon turned out to be rather blurry and problematic themselves. For, what exactly was work or leisure? And how did they interrelate with one another?

Work and leisure are two important categories which aimed to describe industrialized mass societies and to label them as work societies, leisure societies, or post-industrial societies. The conference will consider the constructed dichotomy of work and leisure as an attempt to categorize human activities which created both order and “grey areas” where new questions and uncertainties arose. Our focus is on work and leisure in discourses and practices. What did the concepts signify in the contexts of society, the economy, of policy making, the media, or for professions such as medicine, law, and psychology? What notions of identity, social order, gender, or of the body did such discourses and practices convey? What was considered to be work, what was considered to be leisure for whom and by whom? And how did one account actions that defied this binary categorization as, for example, sewing, booking a holiday trip, or building a garage?

We invite abstracts of no more than 500 words for papers including but not limited to the following themes:

  1. Discourses: The focus is on the definition, distinction, and evaluation of human activities as either work or leisure or somewhere in between. Possible topics are political, economic, and social discourses on work and leisure, the role of the media, and grey areas such as domestic reproductive work or “black labor” on the side.
  2. Practices: How did individuals and social groups classify their actions? What marked work and leisure for them? What generational, gender, or class differences do we find with regard to the experience of work and leisure? How did preferences and priorities change over time and within life courses? Likewise, we aim at putting those institutions into historical perspective that gathered data on everyday-practices and attitudes.
  3. Interdependencies: Recent scholarship has shown how the supposedly separate spheres work and leisure have “infiltrated” one another with regard to values, competences, practices, and structures. How did mutual influences change meanings and practices? What distinguished professionals from amateurs? These questions are closely related to theories and models in various academic fields that conceptionalize the relationship between work and leisure.
  4. Work and leisure as markets: The dichotomy of work and labor opened markets and marketing chances for commercial providers of products (and experiences) ranging from power tools and hobby kits to financial products such as consumer credit. How did work, leisure, and consumption interrelate? Here, the focus is on products and marketing strategies as well as on social groups which sought to overcome the separation of work and labor and their interconnectedness in the sphere of consumption.

We invite scholars from different disciplines to discuss these and related questions. Our focus is on the time period starting from the last third of the 19th century to the 1980s in both capitalist and socialist societies. Please submit a proposal of no more than 500 words and a brief CV (1 page) via e-mail to

The deadline for submission is July 15, 2015. The conference will take place in Vienna on January 21-23, 2016. Participants will be notified by the end of August. Conference languages are German and English. Expenses for travel (economy class) and accommodation will be covered. For more information please contact

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