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Atypical Works in Pre-Industrial Europe. Pluriactivity, Mobility and Social Identities

Final Report Summary - ATYPICALWORKPATTERNS (Atypical Works in Pre-Industrial Europe. Pluriactivity, Mobility and Social Identities)

MAIN RESULTS: the identification of atypical work patterns

The main goal of the project was to identify and describe atypical work patterns in the pre-industrial cities. This objective has been reached, as shown by the results of the research.

1. “Mobile jobs”
Thanks to the analysis of the Pauper Examinations records of the Hospital San Sisto (for more details on sources see Annex 1 - Sources and data collected), from 1647 to 1726 and of the parishes registers (Stati d’anime) I have identified the main professional activities which were related to mobility and thus to atypical work (see Chart 1 in Annex 2).
- Servants. A high percentage of atypical career included a period of time spent working as a servant: domestics, coachmen, cooks, factotum, and so on. This was an accessible profession - on the one side because it didn’t require any specific professional skills or a long training, on the other side because, in a city like Rome the demand of household staff was very strong, especially to work in cardinals’ and noblemen palaces. The chart shows that the job of servant could be practiced at the end but also at the beginning of the career. For people who become servant in the second part of their professional life, this job represents thus a survival resource, since they could not practice anymore the first job (ex: a hatter and a peddler who become servants when they are old). Nevertheless, the domestic service could be also a temporary, initial occupation that was left as soon as another job opportunity arises, in other words, it can be defined as a « bridging occupation » which eased horizontal mobility.
- Other services. It is worth noting that working in the service sector did not always mean joining a household staff: other kind of services existed beyond the domestic sphere. Indeed, one could offer his or her services to other kind of employers, such as churches, confraternities, hospitals, tribunals, and so on (ex: debt collector for a church/a tribunal, attorney).
- Food retail was another sector that offered easy-accessible employment opportunities. We can notice some differences between jobs 1 and 2 of this sector. In the second group, the retailers are the majority, while production activities (the bakers, for example) are less represented. As it is well known, sales activities were more accessible than production because they did not need specific professional skills and because they could be practiced without expansive work tools. The retailer only needed to find a shop to sell their merchandises; moreover, thanks to the companies the opportunities to work in a shop were numerous, also for those who were neither master nor apprentices. Becoming an itinerant vendor was even easier: in this group we can count at least 6 peddlers, selling fruits, bread, salt, and so on.
- Hospitality sector. Individuals of every professional background could practice the job of innkeeper (in my sample: a coachman, a domestic, a fish seller, a hatter and a tobacconist - this variety is the first evidence of the accessibility of this job). The profession of innkeeper was easily accessible both to men and women: in case of need, and with a few furnishing, the domestic space could become a public space and the house could be transformed into an inn or public house. In these cases, women were not necessarily the owners of the house; rather, they were often tenants. Owning a property, indeed, was not a requirement to start working in the hospitality sector.
- The careers of the “old apprentices” - those apprentices and journeymen who spent their whole professional life without ever becoming masters – were also atypical ones, because they permanently lived in a situation of professional dependence. According to the records of the San Sisto hospital, many of them claim to be single men or widowers, and none of them is in a typical, patriarchal living arrangement. Among them, the residential dependence on the master was quite widespread (ex: an 80 years old apprentice of chicken breeder, who is housed by his master; a tailor apprentice who, aged of 60 years, lived at his master’s place, etc.). See charts 2, 3 and 4 and table 2 in the annex.
- Seasonal workers. Agricultural laborers were seasonal/temporary workers, and practiced a form of short-distance mobility, since they often came from places near Rome and many stayed in the city only on an intermittent basis. For this reason, their residential habits were characterized by precarity and unsettledness. In most cases, they were lodgers or they rented out an entire apartment, where the members of the team lived all together (up of 20 males). The structure of these residential units reflected not only the need to share the cost of a lodging, but also the professional structure of their job, organized in teams, which worked and lived together.
- Multi-year “unsettled” migrants A similar condition of instability in terms of housing often characterized the porters. Defines by Raul Merzario as multi-year migrants, these men came to Rome planning on a short stay before going back home, but sometimes they ended up staying longer or even their entire lives. Once in the city, their lives were often characterized by the same degree of instability experienced by seasonal migrants; however, their migratory paths diverged in that they usually came from distant locations, often the Piedmont-Lombardy-Switzerland area, and could not easily return there every year, much less every month.

2. Patterns of professional mobility: sequences analysis
I used professional sequences’ analysis (a longitudinal and biographical approach) in order to identify how atypical careers could evolve (See Table 1 in Annex 2). The most important results are three.
1. First of all, changing job means, in the majority of the cases, changing professional sector. The mobility within the same sector represents only less than 1/5 of the careers’ sample (19,2%), and concentrates mostly in the food sector.
2. Secondly, for agricultural labourers the opportunities to move to another sector were quite limited, and 1/3 of them kept working in the agriculture. The most frequent alternative was the food sector, and, more specifically, becoming a vendor of the food produced in the countryside: fruits, vegetables and cheese. On the contrary, the domestic service, so widespread among this “unsettled” population, does not seem to be a professional resource for the agricultural labourers.
3. The analysis of the professional sequences has also shown that craftsmen never become food peddlers or food retailers, even if this job, as we have seen, was one of the most accessible ones. The most frequent pattern is moving from crafts to domestic service and other services (17 careers out of 28). We can sometimes find a correlation between the two jobs (ex: coat maker who becomes an evaluator of the Monte di Pietà, the city’s public pawnshop).

3. Pluriactivity
The analysis of professional sequences applies to cases of job changes, but it is worth noting that a different pattern of “atypical” work exists, consisting of practicing two or more different professional activities at the same time (pluriactivity). This practice - defined as specific characteristics of the work of the poor (L. Fontaine) and as a professional strategy against the risk of unemployment (A. Cottereau, M. Gribaudi) - is declared by some of the individuals in my sample. We can identify several patterns of pluriactivity.
The first one is when the jobs practiced at the same time are two similar activities, as some of the San
Sisto poor’s statements prove (ex: a fruit seller and, at the same time, grocer; an innkeeper and fish seller). When the two activities had nothing in common, a frequent pluriactivity pattern included the military service: because the military sector did not offer regular occupations, the soldier had often a second job (such as tailors and cobblers). The same can be said of the innkeepers: as we have seen, running an inn could be a second, collateral activity. Another pattern consisted in combining any job available, in a mere survival perspective (ex: mason, carter and ragman).


The main conclusive point of this research is the tight relations between the unsettled population and the early modern city. First of all, we need to call into question the category of “marginal” people, and to adopt a longitudinal, biographical approach to poverty, in order to study this phenomenon as a process, and not only as an ascribed condition. The precarization and the pauperization dynamics could mark everyone’s life, for more or less extended periods of time. People could be unsettled soon after their arrival in the city, and then become settled inhabitants, but also becoming unsettled after having lost their job. Since in the early modern city working for someone meant also being hosted by him, losing the job meant losing the house – according to the disaffiliation model described by Robert Castel – and be forced to live in the inns or to be hosted for free by a friend, a neighbour, an employer. Professional and residential mobility define the condition of poverty and precariousness in the city. Nevertheless, by focussing on the “mobile” career paths we have shown the possibility to identify some professional patterns, and to describe the work of the poor in a more complex way than “practising every available job in order to survive”. The opportunities that arise for a vineyard labourer were not the same that a craftsman could have access to, as the analysis of the professional sequences has shown, and some sectors were more accessible than others for those who had to look for a second job. The difficulty of the historians to find the “unsettled” in the sources should not lead us to underestimate their importance in the early modern cities, whose economy and society (as the case study of Rome proves) heavily relied upon this unsettled population: the nobleman palaces, the construction sector that has built the Renaissance and Baroque cities, the cardinals’ courts, but also the churches, the bakeries, the groceries and the cobblers’ workshops: their daily management depended on the labour of a mobile work force.
The relevance of these results for civil society and policy makers is that they clearly show the tight connections between “atypical” workers and unsettled people on the one side and the economic activities on the other side. The dynamics of integration of these individuals in the early modern labour market share many points in common with contemporary societies. Some analogies are striking: let’s think of the job opportunities in the fields of the services, of the food retail and of the agricultural work, three sectors in which most of “atypical” workers and migrant workers are today employed. The results of this research are thus relevant achievements for civil society and policy makers, because they highlight that these labour market dynamics are not necessarily dependent upon contemporary economic development, and they provide a different, original framework (the comparison with preindustrial society) which allow shedding new lights of the topic of atypical work.