Normative order in the workplace. The development of work regulations (Arbeitsordnungen) from the Empire to the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany

Research Project

The research project deals with the emergence and genesis of German work regulations in the metal industry. Their origins lie in the early 19th century, when factory owners laid down requirements and prohibitions to regulate the work process within their companies. Work regulations established the legal basis for industrial relations by defining working conditions and behavioral demands made on the workers. Using the database being prepared as part of the project ‘Non-state Law of the Economy’, my research seeks to identify the historical turning points in the development of work regulations from the early 19th to the mid-20th centuries. The analysis will not only explore changes in the content of the normative texts but also investigate the important negotiation processes that preceded or resulted from work regulations.

The analysis is carried out in three steps. In the first, the established narratives regarding the key historical moments in the development of work regulations as contained in the secondary literature on co-determination and works constitution (Betriebsverfassung) will be critically evaluated by comparing them to the findings of regional case studies.

In the second step, the database will be analysed to determine peak periods of activity regarding the adoption or modification of work regulations. To what extent did these coincide with periods of increasing state regulation, or can we identify other factors that led or contributed to important changes? The project’s third step uses qualitative methods of analysis to explore the negotiation processes that led to the introduction or modification of work regulations. For this purpose, selected examples will be investigated in detail, comparisons between companies and regions will be drawn, and actors and institutions involved in the negotiation processes as well as the spaces in which these discourses took place will be identified.

The research project will reconstruct a multifaceted field of actors and institutions in which the normative order in the workplace was negotiated, codified and sometimes called into question. The aim is to present the discourses, practices, rules, norms, and principles of this historical regime of normativity of industrial labour relations in a longue durée perspective.


Establishing Order in the Workplace: Legal Negotiations of Industrial Relations in Nineteenth-century Germany, Konferenz: Work, Class, and Social Democracy in the Global Age of August Bebel (1840–1913), University of Toronto, 25.-27. May 2023.

Establishing Order in the Workplace: Legal Negotiations of Industrial Relations in Saxon metal companies, Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, 26-27 September 2022

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