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  • Categories in Context: Gender and Work in France and Germany 1900–Present ed. by Isabelle Berrebi-Hoffmann et al.
  • Emma Robertson
Isabelle Berrebi-Hoffmann, Olivier Giraud, Léa Renard and Theresa Wobbe, eds, Categories in Context: Gender and Work in France and Germany 1900–Present (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2019). pp. 276. AU $135 cloth.

With the gender pay-gap still all too real, histories of gendered inequalities at work are to be valued. This edited collection brings together original research on France and Germany, to offer a revealing comparative perspective. In particular, the authors focus on the construction of legal, political, economic, social and cultural "categories," which have both helped and hindered the quest for workplace gender equality into the twenty-first century. They explore how such categories have become institutionalised and their implications for working women in two European countries.

Categories in Context is the result of a large-scale research project, "The Metamorphosis of Equality" (2011–16), co-funded by the German National [End Page 252] Science Council and the French National Research Agency. The book brings together single and co-authored contributions from the researchers involved (including the editors themselves), whose expertise includes sociology, political science and history. This shared project results in a sense of coherence, which can otherwise be hard to achieve in an edited collection. This coherence could have been enhanced further by the addition of a concluding chapter. As most chapters deal either with France or with Germany, a final chapter drawing these national studies together would have been helpful. Instead, the last word goes to France, in Ferruccio Ricciardi's fascinating discussion of how a "gendered employment norm" was constructed over 100 years (1914–2014).

Following a brief introduction, the ten substantive chapters are divided into two sections. The first concentrates on three core topics: women's work in family business; the restriction of night work for women; and women on company boards. Each topic is afforded two chapters: one for France and one for Germany. Olivier Giraud's opening chapter is an engaging study of the shifting meanings of "family" labour, and of the "family" itself, for French women. This pairs well with Léa Renard's study of the categorisation of women's "family" work in Germany. I found Michel Lallement's complex discourse analysis around night work in France rather hard to follow; Theresa Wobbe and Katja Müller provide a more accessible historical overview of night work in Germany. The two chapters on company boards set up interesting comparisons between France and Germany around the contested logics of gender "quotas" and how this has evolved in the fairly recent past.

In the second section, national case studies are helpfully placed into their international context, especially through reference to the work of institutions such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Arnaud Lechevalier's excellent chapter on "Dynamics of Gendered Employment Regimes in France and Germany" is useful in bringing these national histories into closer conversation. Lechevalier highlights differences in the character of gendered employment over time, especially in terms of women's full-time employment rates. The last two chapters focus on the persistent problem of "equal pay for equal work" and how this has been understood transnationally. This second section of the book importantly emphasises the distinctly transnational nature of categories of work and gender, and explores the actions of transnational agents in their construction.

Although the collection is broadly historical in focus, most contributors focus their analysis on the recent past, with many offering insights into post-2000 developments. The book is aligned explicitly with sociology rather than with social histories of labour and uses sociological terminology to pursue a more heavily theoretical approach than will appeal to some readers. Still, there are useful insights into historical developments over the [End Page 253] longer term, which are interesting in relation to the different political, social, cultural and economic histories of the two nations. In the case of interwar and World War II Germany, race becomes a significant complicating factor. Although the introduction flags the significance of "multiple tensions of empire" for both France and Germany, the post-colonial dimension was not dealt...


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