Kathleen Cannings essay takes a critical approach to the trajectory of decline that has been widely assigned to the field of Anglo-Saxon labor history at the turn to the 21st century. Exploring both the external political-economic redefinitions of labor and the internal historiographical shifts from materialist to culturalist modes of historical explanation in recent years, she suggests that rather than decline, labor history has experienced a new and fruitful dispersal across other areas of scholarly inquiry. As a result, it has become less bounded by notions of class and masculinist dichotomies of production/reproduction.
Emphasizing the importance of labor for the paradigm shift from the history of women to gender in the late 1980s, Canning explicates the ways in which the wave of new scholarship on gender and labor revitalized and expanded the scope of labor history during the last decade while grappling with the theoretical and methodological challenges of the linguistic turn in the historical sciences.
The task of rewriting labor history from the perspective of gender, she argues, has significantly widened its scope, as the meanings of work spilled over into the histories of state and social reform, citizenship and consumption, empires and diasporas.