Panel: 'Performing and Avoiding Work' - ESSHC Vienna 2014

Sigrid Wadauer, Therese Garstenauer
23.04.2014 - 26.04.2014
Therese Garstenauer

European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) , Vienna (23-26 April 2014)

Performing and Avoiding Work

Work is commonly seen as an essential feature of human life. In social history, it is usually assumed that people work not only out of necessity but also because of a basic need or a certain inherent work ethic. Accordingly, being out of work is primarily understood as something involuntary, in which both the material and psychological hardships are to be stressed. However, leisure and recreation also seem to be basic needs. Historically speaking, one finds not only political struggles for the right to work but also for the reduction of working hours. Proclaiming the right to be lazy as well as praising indolence and imagining various lands of ‘milk and honey’ have been the focus of literary anthologies, essays and cultural histories. In the last decades, leisure has garnered increased attention. Yet individual practices of striving to be lazy or deliberately avoiding work are seldom integrated into the history of work, perhaps because of a fear of delegitimizing social rights (which are linked to work and the willingness to work).

If we look at sources such as life accounts, it becomes quite clear that not everyone actually wants to work under any circumstances or conditions, just for the sake of working. Instead, we find evidence of a need for leisure or a reduction of workload to make one’s work easier. Sometimes people should not accept just any work (for example, in order to stick to a certain occupation). Human beings are not passive when subjected to work-discipline. They do not simply adapt and conform, nor do they simply adopt principles without modification. Some professional groups are notorious for their (alleged) laziness, such as civil servants or other types of bureaucrats. Moreover, there are persons who make the opposite of productive work into their profession: they pursue – sometimes with great diligence –activities as beggars, thieves etc. That in turn raises the question of what is acknowledged as (decent) work. Finally, work avoidance is also an accusation or strategy of defamation with a range of consequences.

This panel aims to discuss how people pursue and avoid work at the workplace in certain occupations and under specific conditions. How do they come to terms with obeying (or resisting) the requirements of work discipline and performance? How does occupation or a specific socio-economic context, influence perceptions of work and work avoidance? Are there informal rules that govern how work and work avoidance are balanced?

We invite proposals which deal with performance and avoidance of work, preferably in a non-European context. Interested applicants are invited to send a proposal of no more than 400 words to the corresponding organizer, Therese Garstenauer ( The deadline for the proposal is May 7th, 2013. Notification of acceptance will be given no later than May 13th. Accepted abstracts will be sent to the ESSHC organizers along with this session proposal. For any questions or information, please contact The accepted applicants are required to send the full paper by early April 2014.


Therese Garstenauer

Vienna University of Economics and Business

Panel: 'Performing and Avoiding Work' - ESSHC Vienna 2014, 23.04.2014 – 26.04.2014 Vienna, in: H-Soz-Kult, 29.04.2013, <>.