Past scholarship has often located the rise of the work ethic in the context of the Reformation, a connection that is now increasingly discarded. The cult of diligence shown by intellectuals in early modern Europe was certainly not just a product of the different Protestant movements; it was a much wider and complex phenomenon that can only be correctly understood if one considers its precise forms and social contexts. In other words: who were the people who promoted this new type of hard work and how could their values gain legitimacy? Why did labour become an important, openly promoted value in certain parts of Europe?
The purpose of our project is to contribute to a new contextualised perspective on the early modern work ethic. The rhetoric of labour and industry usually implied some form of social criticism: criticism of the aristocrat and the nobleman, the monk and the priest, the idle poor etc. It was at the same time never uncontested. The courtier stressed nonchalance, members of the salons politeness and effortlessness. To extoll the values of labour and diligence also referred to autonomy: it could imply that the individual’s status and self-esteem was to a lesser or larger degree independent from the family and the social system. It could at the same time legitimate the social rise of the newly rich. Further, it could also represent the values and cohesion of an urban class, looking for their own ethos and place in society. Moreover, the institutional promotion of the work ethic could serve as a means of social disciplining. Although remaining contested and attached to certain social contexts, the work ethic became integral to the development of modern society. Its promoters were obviously not only the literate, but came from much larger segments of society.
We are looking for scholars interested in questions about the early modern work ethic: in its social (including gender), political, religious and intellectual contexts. Among others, we are interested in the promotion of the work ethic in urban Protestant contexts. For example: how and why did religious and civil authorities promote the work ethic? Did the promotion of the work ethic play any role in the success of the Protestant churches? We are also keen to understand the relation between the work ethic and the new regulations about workhouses and poor relief. Further, we are interested in the relationship between the promotion of the work ethic and state fromation.Finally, we are interested in both discourses and practices of hard work. We are particularly interested in attracting scholars working on these themes with reference to gender history, as well as scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and those working on saloons and courts.
We plan to organise a workshop for the participants in Innsbruck hosted by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Neo-Latin Studies next winter.
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