Philipp Reick

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin



Visiting Scholar CUNY Graduate Center
New York City

Since 2011

Doctoral Candidate in History
Graduate School of North American Studies
Freie Universität Berlin

Academic Advisors:   

Michaela M. Hampf (JFKI/Berlin)
Thomas Welskopp (BGHS/Bielefeld)
Nancy Fraser (New School/New York)

2011 MA in History and Political Science, Universität Potsdam
2007/08 UC Berkeley
2005/06 University of Manchester


Dissertation Abstract

“Labor Is not a Commodity!“
Contested Working-Class Discourse and the Movement to Shorten the Workday in Berlin and New York City in the 1860s and 1870s

Analyzing the history of the movement to shorten the workday in mid-nineteenth-century Berlin and New York City, this dissertation explores what political economists Karl Polanyi has termed the “fictitious commodification“ of human labor. Despite its profound significance for present-day social movements, European and North American Social History has largely neglected the impact of free market rhetoric on the formation of organized labor. This thesis shows that on both sides of the Atlantic, workers opposed the unchecked commodification of labor power as a violation of their political, social, and economic rights. These workers saw unfettered markets as utterly incompatible with their notion of autonomy, masculinity, humanity, and participation. As Polanyi suggested, organized labor thus struggled for protection from the free market. Yet this dissertation also shows that the emerging movement for protection from commodification did not promote a universalist agenda. Juxtaposing the distinct rationalities underlying the demand for shorter female and male workdays, the study demonstrates that struggles to protect female labor from commodification seriously undermined women’s ability to participate equally in the polity, society, and economy. This dissertation thus constitutes a historical-empirical contribution to the current re-evaluation of Polanyian thought promoted by Nancy Fraser an others. At the same time the comparative approach of this study challenges accepted notions of socio-historical exceptionalisms. The study reveals that workers in two urban centers of nineteenth-century Germany and the US drew upon a strikingly similar rationality when formulating demands. The dissertation thus epitomizes that neither does the US labor movement easily qualify as a deviation from the supposed norm of industrial contestation nor does its German counterpart constitute the embodiment of this alleged standard. Despite the comparative design, this study also pays careful attention to processes of transfer. Especially the immigrant communities of New York City thereby played a crucial role in transporting proletarian concepts of work, dignity, and justice back and forth the Atlantic.


“Histories of Activism: Postgraduate Conference,” November 26, 2011, London, H-Soz-u-Kult, 16.12.2011, <>.

“‘We are the 99%!‘ Zum Selbstbild der deutschen und amerikanischen Arbeiterbewegung in der Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts,” Nebulosa: Figuren des Sozialen, 06/2014, 89-98.

“A Poor People’s Movement? Erwerbslosenproteste in Berlin und New York in den frühen 1930er Jahren,“ JahrBuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, Vol. 14, no. 2015/I, 20-36, <>.

“US Labor Archives: Unbekanntes Terrain für die europäische Forschung?” JahrBuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, Vol. 14., no. 2015/I, 140-143.

“And Protect Us from the Market! Organized Labor and the Demand to Shorten the Workday of Women in the 1860s and 1870s,” InterDisciplines: Journal of History and Sociology, forthcoming.

“’Labor is not a Commodity!’ Contested Working-Class Discourse and the Movement to Shorten the Workday in Berlin and New York City in the Late 1860s and Early 1870s,” PhD diss., forthcoming.


“The Commodification of Labour, the Logics of Inequality, and Social Movements in Late Nineteenth-Century Berlin,” University of Manchester: Rethinking Inequality in Historical Perspective, May 23, 2012.

“The Rise of the Market: Everyday Resistance to the Commodification of Labour in Late Nineteenth-Century Berlin and New York City,” University of Copenhagen: The Methodology of the Everyday in International Political Economy, May 29/30, 2012.

“A Neo-Polanyian History of Capitalism: The Contested Commodification of Labor in late Nineteenth-Century Berlin and New York City,” 37th Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association (SSHA), Vancouver, Canada: The Histories of Capitalism, November 1–4, 2012.

“The Double Movement at Work: Karl Polanyi and the International Struggle for an Eight-Hour Workday in the late Nineteenth Century,” 5th Annual Seminar of the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology: Work in a Globalising World – Gender, Mobility, Markets, April 8–10, 2013.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft