Call for Applications: Industrial Decline and the Rise of the Service Sector? (München, 16.09.-17.09.2016)

Conference „Industrial Decline and the Rise of the Service Sector? How Did Western Europe and North America Cope with the Multifaceted Structural Transformations since the 1970s?“

Deadline: 06.03.2016

Conveners: Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München – Berlin; Deutsches Historisches Institut Washington  – German Historical Institute, Washington D.C.

For some years now, the 1970s have come into the focus of historical research. Although there is no consensus about how best to characterize the various, often contradictory developments of this decade, it seems clear that the postwar order in all Western industrialized nations underwent a fundamental change. The period of economic growth and prosperity after 1945, the so-called trente glorieuses (Jean Fourastié), definitely came to an end. Problems that were believed to have been solved permanently – especially mass and youth unemployment – reemerged and turned into structural problems in the early 1980s. Triggered by the oil (price) crises in 1973 and 1979, economic growth rates collapsed and industries like the coal, iron, and steel industries slipped into a final decay from which they never recovered. On the one hand, the decline of the old industrial sector and the resulting loss of millions of jobs in Western industrialized nations challenged the narrative of continuously growing prosperity. On the other hand, the emergence of a service-sector economy and the rise of a new class of “knowledge workers” (Peter F. Drucker) set in. The “post-industrial society” (Daniel Bell) with ambivalent implications, many scholars argued, had irreversibly arrived. In this upcoming conference, the organizers wish to examine the structural social and industrial developments that have taken place since the 1970s in a comparative and transnational perspective and to explore both contemporary perceptions as well as today’s theoretical conceptions.

Papers may be submitted on the following topics:

1.) Transnational Similarities and Differences in Economic Development
This section will examine the industrial changes of the 1970s from a comparative and transnational point of view. Which developments were similar in all industrialized nations? Did they take place more or less simultaneously? What were the differences between different European countries and also between Europe and North America? How can these differences be explained? Do they stem from national path dependencies? It might be discussed from a transatlantic perspective whether the structural processes occurring in Europe and the United States are comparable or whether internal differences loom larger than the similarities. Is a comparison between Europe as a whole and the US meaningful or might it make more sense to compare particular regions such as, for example, the Ruhrgebiet and the rust belt?

2.) The Rise of Social Inequality
The English translation of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st century” has recently placed social inequality back in the realm of public debate and thus high on the political agenda. The financial crisis of 2008/2009 has exacerbated the social inequality in all Western nations. Youth unemployment continues to threaten the social cohesion in many European countries. How can or should historians approach social inequality? Most analyses of poverty and wealth are based on huge amounts of micro and macro data. How, then, can contemporary historians deal with this issue without simply adopting the findings and theories of social science? Are there areas of inter- or transdisciplinary cooperation with economists? How could such an approach be realized?

3.) Coping with the Changes: Collective and Individual Responses
Crises and transformations generally provoke manifold attempts to cope with the challenges. We would like to discuss how different social actors and organizations tried to cope with the implications of the economic, social, and political changes that occurred in the 1970s. How, for example, did labor unions or industrial, business, and trade organizations react to the changes in the labor market and the decline of the skilled worker in the old industries? Did they develop new political concepts or stick to old solutions? How did individual employees react to structural changes in the working environment and changes in their work place? Did they look for collective responses or did they try to gain individual competitive advantage by, for example, better educating themselves?

4.) Structural Transformations of the Labor Market
There is no doubt that the decline of old industrial sectors, such as coal and steel, accelerated in the course of the 1970s. But the “crises” in these industries had already started earlier. What actually changed in the labor market in the 1970s and 1980s? Was the skilled industrial worker really displaced by the “knowledge worker”? Can one identify general trends within Europe and North America or were there various, partly contradictory developments taking place? What were the effects of the introduction of microelectronics, the so-called third industrial revolution, on the labor market? Did a post-industrial society actually emerge in the 1970s or is this more of an ideological construct or maybe both?

5.) Current Implications of the transformations of the 1970s
In his widely discussed book “Buying Time. The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism,” Wolfgang Streeck, the former director of the Max Planck Institute for the study of societies, argues that the roots of the current economic and financial crisis reach back to the mid-1970s. Whether one examines the so-called knowledge society or the liberalization of the financial markets, the historical geneses of these phenomena have to be traced back to their possible origin to fully understand them. Is there really a (straight) line from the financial collapse in 2008 back to the 1970s? What are the connections of the current crisis to the developments forty years ago? Which role does a historical analysis play in understanding today’s status quo in economic and financial respect?

We invite a broad variety of subjects in these five broad areas. All disciplinary approaches and methodologies are welcome.

Please submit a one- to two-page abstract and a short bio with institutional affiliation in a single file to Stefan Hördler ( and Sebastian Voigt ( by March 6, 2016. The abstract should provide a short description of the proposed topic, the new material and findings it presents, and its relevance for the workshop. Participants will be notified by the mid of April 2016. The conference will be held in English. Expenses for travel and accommodation will be covered.


Sebastian Voigt
Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München – Berlin

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, concentrated around the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with distinctive and independent focal points. Through its globally operating institutes, the Foundation is able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and the host countries or regions of its establishments. By promoting scientific dialogue and merging academic as well as non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the Internationalization of research in its three fields of dedication.

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