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Gendered histories of deindustrialisation and female unemployment in Europe since 1973 

I aim to investigate women’s unemployment in the phase of deindustrialisation that began in the aftermath of 1973 oil crisis and is still affecting Western countries. Female unemployment has a rather ‘marginal’ status in academia, being overlooked both by labour historians focused on male unemployment and by feminist social scientist focused on recent occurrences. My project will offer new insights, framing this experience in a longer timespan and embracing a comparative and multidisciplinary approach. 

Western countries have had to face economic crises since the mid-seventies and from the eighties neoliberal capitalism started to heavily reshape the global labour market. The old stereotype of female salary as ‘pin money’ within the household budget was again publicly put forth, thus implicitly questioning women’s right to work. How did women experience unemployment? What did it mean in terms of their social status, economic independence, sense of self, relationship to the home? Were specific welfare policies put into place? How did societies of different countries discuss female unemployment in relation to male unemployment? To what extent did the decline of traditional working-class culture affect public debate as well as individual perception of this phenomenon? 

To answer these questions and to understand the reconfiguration of class and gender identities I have selected three case studies (FIAT in Italy, LIP in France, Plessey in the UK). These three countries are Western European democracies with strong traditions of organised labour; however, their political situations were different, thus policies to cope with unemployment were developed according to different principles and objectives.

In addition to examining government records, published sources (press, memoirs) and company as well as trade union archives, I will conduct original in-depth interviews. Combining oral history with a variety of written records allows me to understand the interaction of subjectivity, community and wider social structures.