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Labor and the Textile Industry in Global Perspective

Monday, January 25, 2016, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Mass textiles can hardly be conceived without a long line of producers contributing to the finished product. Transregional commodities can be observed since the 16th century, gaining importance vis-à-vis locally rooted products. However, the model varies in the long run of history. Periods characterized by the global inclusion of production sites are followed by periods of local, national, or social protectionism. This lecture aims to identify the dynamics and interests behind globalizing and de-globalizing shifts in textile production, both characteristic of political and institutional regulation of commodity flows.

Places, whether near or far, have thus been long “inter-woven” as in a piece of cloth. As soon as they are part of a commodity chain, they fit into a division of labor, which allows the units in command to profit from contracted and subcontracted manufacturing. Profits flow from the “low” to the “high ends" of the commodity chain. The idea of synchronicity also applies to the sphere of consumption. Good salaries at the “high ends” provide the workers with time and money to consume, while low skill/low pay workers lack purchasing power. They try to compensate for this lack through gifts and care from the household, the subsistence economy, and sometimes the state. Gender and ethnicity join location as factors of uneven integration.

Andrea Komlosy is a professor of social and economic history at the University of Vienna, Austria, where she is the coordinator of the Global History and Global Studies programs. Her research foci include: economic and social history of the Habsburg Monarchy and its successor states, 18-20th centuries; states, borders, and migration in Central Europe; uneven development on a global, European, and regional scale; global history – concepts, theories, and methodology; global labor history; industrial history; and industrial archaeology.

Her recent publications include: Globalgeschichte. Methoden und Theorien (Wien-Köln 2011); Arbeit. Eine globalhistorische Perspektive, 13. bis 21. Jahrhundert (Wien 2014); and the article: ‘Imperial Cohesion, Nation-Building and Regional Integration in the Habsburg Monarchy, in Berger Stefan/Miller Alexei, eds., Nationalizing Empires (Budapest 2014). For more information see: