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The history of the office: on the communication between modern administration and citizens in 19th and 20th century Europe

Final Activity Report Summary - SPACES OF GOVERNANCE (The History of the Office: On the Communication between Modern Administration and Citizens in 19th and 20th Century Europe)

The project ‘The history of the office: On the communication between modern administration and citizens in 19th and 20th century Europe’ evolved in two distinctive projects. Both of them were linked through the object of the study, employment exchanges and the overall context, which was the emergence of the modern welfare state in Europe since the late 19th century (see also periodic A and M report). The objectives and results of these projects were as follows:

Project A, ‘Spaces of governance: Communications between modern administration and citizens in Germany and Britain in 19th and 20th century’, followed exactly the research of the original project. It contributed to a better understanding of the role of space, i.e. building, entrance and exit, waiting areas, corridors, receptions, offices and tills, in the context of employment exchanges as a means of structuring communications between modern administration and unemployed, as well as relationships of power and dependency. It also researched the theoretical underpinnings of concepts of ‘space’ and ‘spaces of communication’.

Through the emergence of employment exchanges the modern welfare state of the 20th century created a special space for the encounter with the unemployed citizen, and in doing so established new relationships of communication, power and dependency. As mediators between the state, market and society, employment exchanges embodied the modern economic system. Moreover, employment exchanges constituted a microcosm of society in terms of relationships of communication and power.

These relationships were also manifested in the erection of new employment exchanges in Germany and Britain in the late 19th and early 20th century. Spaces within employment exchanges such as offices, waiting areas, reception and entrance and exit were used to structure the communications between job placement officers and unemployed. Moreover, the spatial aspects were integrated into systems of managerial practices that were constitutive for the creation of a social and political space. From such a point of view they served as ‘spaces of governance’, which also aimed at enhancing a control of the institution over the conduct of the job placement officers and their clients, the job seeker. Moreover, employment exchanges of the early 20th century were modern, bureaucratic administrations which promoted a new type of authority that was based on expertise, e.g. on job market statistics and vacancies, bureaucratic practices and control through the organisation of spaces.

As for the construction and design of employment exchanges, bureaucratic practices to manage a large number of unemployed people played a crucial role. Moreover, the organisation of spaces was also meant to regulate and control the behaviour of the unemployed and the communications between unemployed and job placement officers. In Germany, the directors of employment exchanges considered the spatial organisation and the design of employment exchanges as crucial for governing unemployed.

Employment exchanges represented a key feature of the modern welfare state and the overall organisation of state, society and market. Thus, they structured a communicative space which was highly political, merely because of its power of inclusion and exclusion, as well as the dominance and autonomy of the economic system in regard to the unemployed. The spatial organisation of employment exchanges not only expressed managerial practices, but also represented an attempt to create a controlled space that served as a representative gate to the world of employment.

Project B, ‘Mastering the labour market: Employment exchanges and the emergence of the welfare state in Germany and Britain in the 20th century’, was developed from the original project, based on a more generic approach. It explored the ideas and institutional approaches developed in Germany and Britain to meet the unemployment within the modern industrial economy. It contributed to a richer understanding of the relationship between the state, market and society through the study of employment exchanges in the context of the emerging welfare state in Germany and Britain.