Regulation, normativity and organisation of corporate social policy. An interregional study of the German metal industry 1871–1932

PhD Project

The company as a form of organisation is a potentially fruitful area of research for both legal and social history, as its development opened a space for intensive socio-political negotiations in which labour and social legislation encountered entrepreneurial interests and demands. This applies in particular to corporate social policy, which, though naturally subject to changes in social legislation, frequently generated normative rules independently of state law. Company benefits either can be interpreted as a tool for recruitment and retention on the one hand or as a field of negotiation for the shaping of industrial labour relations on the other. Through internal structuring of participation rights, behavioural expectations, co-determination opportunities, performance grants, etc., self-given norm structures manifested themselves at the company level.  To a certain extent, one can therefore speak of a field of action for economic self-regulation. However, this field was also affected by legal changes and the interests of participating actors, e.g. of employees, municipalities and associations. It is therefore of interest to explore the individual and collective processes that shaped this relationship.

The work on the PhD thesis, which began in May 2021, is linked to the research project "Non-state law of the economy" and builds on the project-bound development of a digital source database. The approach to the sources is deliberately directed towards the bandwidth of various different metal industrial companies. The focus is not on the individual company, but on the question of the spectrum and the uniformity or diversity of socio-political forms and practices of regulation. In particular, findings from medium-sized companies from various German industrial regions (Berlin, Saxony, Württemberg, Ruhr area) will be included in the analysis, whereas historical research on company social policy has so far concentrated more on larger companies or individual locations. This should ensure a better overview of the influence that different company sizes, forms, and location factors have had on the normative design of the corporate social sector. The thesis is that norm shaping processes can be explained more strongly in regional contexts, especially in the case of smaller companies.

Adopting a perspective that touches on questions of corporate, social and legal history, the work is devoted to different socio-political fields of activity: The company health insurance system, the pension fund system, company housing, the granting of holidays, the company food supply, bonus systems, and company celebrations. These areas are each examined in terms of their pre-development, their intention, their organisation, their effects, and their changes. It is thus intended to provide insights into the development of company-based socio-political systems with regard to the degree of formalisation and institutionalisation, convictions and traditions, the increasing influence of the state, the degree of inter-company organisation and networking, and reactions to challenges. In addition to this, the work deals in a separate part with the role of groups of employees. It asks how workers in different examples acted within this normative framework, how they tried to use or change regulations for themselves, and how they confronted corporate regulatory demands.

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