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Industrial Novels in Perspective of Industrial Sociology: A Comparison Between Weimar Germany and post-WWII Italy

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[Excerpt] Since the English Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century, almost up to the present century, the so-called industrial novel played a significant role in many industrializing and industrialized countries in making aware workers, politicians and policy makers, as well as the general public, of the lack of quality of working conditions in separate enterprises and/or sectors. Also, these novels contributed in a positive way to the emancipation of workers in society. Well-known examples are the famous industrial novels of the English Victorian writers Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. But also in other countries the genre of the industrial novel became notorious in due course. In France, for example the 'naturalist' industrial novels of Emile Zola, like Germinal, had a significant influence on the development of social and labour policies at the time of the French Third Republic. After the turn of the century the industrial novel also became manifest in other industrialized countries; first before World War I in the USA, by the Inter-bellum in Germany and the USSR, and after World War II in particular in Italy. Even nowadays, albeit less frequently and less influential, industrial novels are still being published. Very often these novels were based on extensive desk research and/or even empirical research on site of its authors. For this reason, these novels may also be considered as a form of relevant pseudo- or ex-ante sociological research, regretfully often neglected in the context of vested labour and industrial sociology. From a scientific, but also societal viewpoint this certainly has been and still is a missed opportunity. In this article I will demonstrate this by comparing and juxtaposing systematically industrial novels written in two important European countries in two different time periods: Germany at the time of the Weimar republic in the 1920s, and post-war Italy in the 1950s and early 1960s. In sum, what in fact could industrial novels contribute to the existing sociological knowledge?

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Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Social Boundaries of Work.


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industrial novels; industrial sociology; sociology of work; history of work


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