“I certainly wouldn’t call it work anymore” – The Reconfiguration of Work in Italy during the 1970s from a Historical Semantics Perspective

Livi, M. (2023). “I certainly wouldn’t call it work anymore”. The Reconfiguration of Work in Italy during the 1970s from a Historical Semantics Perspective. Austrian Journal of Historical Studies34(2), 175–198.


Using an onomasiological, document-centred historical semantic approach, this paper focuses on the reconfiguration of labour in Italian society during the 1970s and 1980s. This is analysed both at the level of discourse and at the level of the performative changes that the development of a new semantics of labour, coercion, and freedom entailed. At the end of the 1970s, with the onset of the post-boom crisis, the rejection of regulated labour and the theorisation of its liberation through precarisation and flexi-bilisation became part of a cultural and social semantics for the young generation of workers entering the wage labour system. Their motto was “freeing labour to free life from labour”. Through both a quantitative and quali-tative historical semantic analysis of the sources, this contribution examines the medium- and long-term impacts of this reconfiguration on the practices of regulated and controlled wage labour. It also aims to offer an initial reflection on the use of the historical semantic approach for contemporary history and its possible – or rather, necessary – differentiation from other forms of discourse analysis.

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Published in: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften (OeZG) – Vol. 34 No. 2 (2023): Work Semantics. 236 pp., EUR 37,–, ISBN 978-3-7065-6308-6 ISSN 1016-765 X

How does language relate to the social? How can historians decipher the social meaning of semantic expressions in historical documents, and how can the analytical categories and concepts used by historians reflect the social taxonomies of the historical sources without imposing the historians’ own mindset on societies of the past? While historical semantics has a long tradition as a subfield of linguistics and in area studies, historians have only recently started to think about historical semantics as an approach to history – mainly in relation to discussions about the use of digital analytical tools. A common understanding of the specificities, the diversity and the potential of a historical semantics approach to history, however, is still missing. This special issue aims to contribute to a clarification. It contains a programmatic vade mecum with methodological examples, six empirical case studies applying the historical semantics approach to the study of labour and power relations in premodern and modern societies, and an interview reflecting on the methodology. The volume is the result of the “Grammars of Coercion” working group of the COST Action CA18205 “Worlds of Related Coercions in Work”.


OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Massimiliano Livi (10. November 2023). “I certainly wouldn’t call it work anymore” – The Reconfiguration of Work in Italy during the 1970s from a Historical Semantics Perspective. TrIBES. Abgerufen am 16. Juli 2024 von https://doi.org/10.58079/uxlf

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