Finding new ways of "doing" socio-legal labor law history in Germany and the UK : introducing a "minor comparativism"

Zahn, Rebecca (2020) Finding new ways of "doing" socio-legal labor law history in Germany and the UK : introducing a "minor comparativism". German Law Journal, 21 (7). pp. 1378-1392. ISSN 2071-8322 (

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Labor law scholars have been receptive to socio-legal methods, going beyond doctrinal legal sources and looking to other disciplines including industrial relations, sociology and history. Yet the decline of the old industrial order since the latter half of the twentieth century, and the transformation of work and production have triggered a debate amongst labor law academics about the future of capitalism and labor law's role within it. Scholars have struggled to define the discipline’s institutional and normative weight in the face of globally integrated markets and a drastically changed regulatory environment. This article revisits the development of socio-legal labor law scholarship in Germany and the UK in order to understand the different approaches within the context of two different legal- and academic cultures, and to consider how a comparison can provide new insights at a time when the discipline is in a state of flux. This article focuses in particular on how history can provide an entrée into different ways of comparing labor law and labor relations systems. It seeks to start a methodological debate on "how to do" labor law history within the context of the discipline's socio-legal origins. In a final section, it uses insights from history and comparative law in order to develop a new methodology – a "minor comparativism" – which unearths the processes and influences underpinning the historical development of labor law which have hitherto escaped the legal record. Such an approach enables scholars to reassess traditional narratives; a worthwhile endeavor at a time when the future role of labor law in regulating work is under scrutiny.


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