Shadow economies and non-regular work practices in urban Europe

Philip R. Hoffmann (Konstanz) Thomas Buchner (Linz) Reinhold Reith (Salzburg) Sigrid Wadauer (Salzburg)
17.02.2006 - 18.02.2006
Buchner, Thomas

Nearly every country of the OECD faces a growth of those economic activities that are carried out beyond the official labour market. The increase of the so-called “shadow economies” is being regarded more and more as a severe social and political problem. But although non-regular economic activities are not a historically new phenomenon, this issue has not yet been studied more closely and in a broader perspective by historians. One reason for this neglect is probably the varied and ambivalent nature of this topic. It is difficult to find a clear answer to the question, what kinds of economic activities should be regarded as non-regular respectively illicit and how they can be differentiated from the legitimate sector of the economy. Already before the introduction of the modern social security systems at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century there was a broad range of economic activities, which were not part of the “official” or “legitimate” economies and therefore regarded as non-regular (though not necessarily as illegal). Corresponding to this a large number of differing and changing terms and conceptions can be observed, that were used to describe and to value this aspect of economic life.

For example in many European cities of the Ancien Régime, many artisans worked outside the guild system. Although their legal status was unclear, they were a constitutive part of the urban economies and closely intertwined with the regular guild-based artisan economy. But also in other sectors of the urban economies (especially retail trade and peddling) non-regular forms of economic activity were not only a wide-spread social practice but often also a necessary and even tolerated part of economic life. On the other hand, these non-regular economic activities formed a highly controversial issue, and many attempts by the “honourable burghers” as well as the political authorities to criminalise and to pursue non- or semi-legally working persons can be observed.
This broad range of different reactions towards this phenomenon, which included toleration and attempts of regulation as well as criminalization, illustrates its ambivalent nature. The attitudes towards non-regular respectively illicit economic activities were strongly influenced by the particular and changing attitudes towards work. Therefore, a closer look at the “shadow economies” contributes to a general history of work, which does not perceive the development of modern economies as a linear process of rationalization, regulation and formalization of work, but as an ambivalent and contradictory process.

According to this conception, the papers of this workshop examine the economic importance of different forms of non-regular economic activities in urban societies in Middle, Western and Southern Europe form the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century as well as the political and cultural dimension of this issue, including the changing concepts and attitudes linked with (illicit) work.


Friday, 17.2.2006

9.30: Address of welcome (Reinhold Reith, Salzburg)

Chair: Sigrid Wadauer (Salzburg)

9.45: Thomas Buchner (Linz): „Introduction“
10.15: Philip R. Hoffmann (Konstanz): “Shadow economies and political cultures in early-modern European cities – comparative approaches”
11.15: coffee
11.45: Anne Montenach (Université de Provence): „Formal and informal economy in an urban context: the case of food trade in 17th century Lyon“.

12.45: lunch

Chair: Thomas Buchner (Linz)

14.30: Patricia Allerston (Edinburgh): „An undisciplined activity? Lace production in early modern Venice”
15.30: Christof Jeggle (Bamberg): „Blurred rules. Regulation and Practices of Production and Trade in the Linen Trades in seventeenth-century Munster/Westphalia”
16.30: coffee
17.00: Georg Stöger (Salzburg), “Remarks on illegal practice in early modern second-hand trade”
18.00: Susanne Schötz (Dresden), “Female Traders and Forbidden Practices of Bartering. Observations on Leipzigs Retail Trade between the 16th and 19th Century”

Saturday, 18.2.2006:

Chair: Philip Hoffmann (Konstanz)

9.30: Susanne Bennewitz (Basel), „Schmoozer or Courtier? Aspects of legal and cultural recognition of the outside broker in a Swiss city”
10.30: Svenja Kornher (Hamburg), „Hairdressing around 1900 – Traditional Male vs. Illegal Female Work?”
11.30: coffee
12.00: Sigrid Wadauer (Salzburg), „Work, non work, negative work“
13.00: Final discussion


Thomas Buchner

Inst. f. Neuere Geschichte und Zeitgeschichte, Univ. Linz

Shadow economies and non-regular work practices in urban Europe, 17.02.2006 – 18.02.2006 Salzburg, in: H-Soz-Kult, 23.01.2006, <>.