The construction of a 'traditional' occupation: welding, 1900-1960

Mutch, Alistair
March 2001
Labour History Review (Maney Publishing);Spring2001, Vol. 66 Issue 1, p41
Academic Journal
This article reviews of the history of welding as an occupation shows how shaky notions of traditional occupations are. Contemporary sociology is often guilty of conflating occupational trajectories and of assuming that their status was assigned on creation. As we have seen, welding was shaped by a number of factors. One of these was the influence of professional engineers in molding the new occupation through a discourse of skill. The development of this discourse in relation to manual occupations as well as in furthering the aspirations of professions might bear further investigation. Subcontractors played an important role in the practical application of the technology and thus in the constructing of the occupation, but the unions paid little attention to lessons which might be learned from this experience. There is a contradictory message here: welding as an occupation is much older than current historical treatments allow, but the earlier phase of its adoption does not seem to have played a central role in shaping responses to it. There is the paradox, at least for the Boilermakers, of a very early engagement with a new trade, yet, apparently, little was learnt from this experience. This raises two linked questions: that of the effectiveness of union structures in conveying information about new developments and that of the strategic response, or lack of it, to new technology.


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