Global Socio-Economic Rights, Local Contexts

Work in East Africa and Western Europe, 1880 to the Present

What are social rights, and how do we articulate them? Global Socio-Economic Rights, Local Contexts (GLOSOC) investigates how contemporaries since the late nineteenth century, and especially in the critical period between the end of the Second World War in 1945 and global economic downturn in 1973, have understood and expressed socio-economic rights: in particular, rights related to work (or choosing not to work), to earn one’s own money and to maintain certain ‘living standards’.

Central Africa, c. 1902. Map of Central Africa from the 10th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, published in 1902. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

This project suggests that work stands at the core of understandings of socio-economic rights and parses how the relationship between rights and work is contingent on different historical and cultural contexts. It focuses on these issues from a global perspective, charting four paradigmatic and connected case studies – the UK, Germany, Kenya and Tanzania – over time, including experiences of colonialism and decolonization, regime change, wartime and postwar reconstructions, and global economic transformations.

In doing so, it asks how ideas about and policies on rights related to work have been articulated in different settings, over time, and how these have diffused globally, through interpersonal and international connections, new developments in international law and changing experiences of and expectations about the relationship between the economy, society and the state. It also reflects on the specific sociological contexts and connotations of ideas about socio-economic rights, including how women, ethnic and religious minorities, children and the elderly, have fitted into and shaped discussions and policies.

To this end, GLOSOC brings together a team of historians based in the UK, Germany and Tanzania to uncover new sources, including oral histories, and connect sources that have previously remained isolated from each other, including archival records, mass media, policy documents and social surveys that reflect on socio-economic rights. It engages with these sources from a novel theoretical and methodological perspective.

On the one hand, GLOSOC connects empirical historical research with social-scientific work on international norm diffusion and the development of human rights law, which has often been noted as laying the groundwork for thinking about socio-economic rights. On the other, it offers a genuinely global approach to the writing of global history through its collaborative and international research team. Not least, GLOSOC works closely with a selection of project partners around the world in order to make this research relevant and wide-reaching. These include local government and philanthropic agencies focused on issues of work and poverty; archives with a special focus in this area, whose work will be digitized and amplified through the project outputs, including the virtual exhibition; and, History & Policy, which will assist the project in making its historical findings relevant to current policy and practice.

GLOSOC aims to benefit a wide range of users. These include academics in history and the social sciences, by publishing open access a co-authored monograph and top-ranked journal articles, as well as producing an oral history database and related conference and seminar papers. It will also benefit the broader public, through the creation of a virtual exhibition on the global history of socio-economic rights as well as through the project website that will feature regular blog posts from project members, including the international advisory board as well as guest authors. Not least, it will benefit external stakeholders through running two policy labs and writing two policy papers that reflect on how history can inform our understandings of and work with contemporary problems related to work and associated poverty.

Project Team

  • Dr. Julia Moses (Principal Investigator – University of Sheffield)
  • Prof. Emma Hunter (Co-Investigator – University of Edinburgh)
  • Dr Maxmillian Julius Chuhila (Co-Investigator – University of Dar es Salaam)
  • Prof. Stefan Berger (Co-Investigator – Ruhr University, Bochum)
  • TBA (Research Associate – University of Sheffield)
  • TBA (Research Associate – University of Edinburgh)