Non-Work in Yugoslavia. A Social History (1918-1941)

Researcher: Dr. Stefano Petrungaro

Project duration: 2012-

This project deals with the interaction between the state and the “non-workers” in Yugoslavia between the two world wars. The main aim is to examine how (non-)labour issues influenced processes of social engineering. In this project I make use of the notion of “non-work” in order to describe those activities which were considered at the fringes of the “normal”, “proper” work, ie. that they were marginalized from a legal and social point of view.

My thesis is that efforts at disciplining the non-work were in this period an integral and crucial part of theories and practices which aimed at building the new country. Physicians, police authorities, political elites, municipal authorities, feminist organisations: all these actors developed articulated debates and practices which always included stances toward the boundaries of “work”. Therefore, nation-building projects need to be investigated alongside state-building projects and social engineering programs. A newly born state needed to rely upon a healthy society composed of good workers. Organicist view of state and society helped in conceiving and structuring new laws and public policies which aimed at normalizing the marginal workers, helping and supporting some of them, further marginalizing some others.

Interwar Yugoslavia was inhabited by a big variety of marginal workers, whose jobs occupied the lowest positions on the hierarchy of normative jobs. For examining the wide world of the non-work in my case-study I have chosen five socio-professional groups: 1) midwives: some of them were heavily marginalized by public authorities during the period under examination; 2) prostitutes: prostitution in Yugoslavia was during the 1920s an officially tolerated, but radically marginalized activity; 3) travelling artists; 4) peddlers; 5) those, who were temporarily without a job, that therefore traveled in search of a job, and that in the meantime tried to survive: jobless people and beggars. This project focuses on five main Yugoslav cities, which represent well the historical, economic and cultural Yugoslav internal cleavages: Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo and Skopje.

The socio-professional groups chosen for this project lived and worked at the margins of the normative work, as well as at the fringes of legality, sometimes of morality, generally of the society. In Yugoslavia at this time a new dividing line was drawn between the classes labourieuses and the classes dangereuses: it was precisely some forms of recognized work that shaped the modern border between the respectable workers and the marginalized social actors. My research project aims at making “visible” this broad and moving boundary of the world of labour, showing how jobs, which had been existed earlier, disappeared after the establishment of the Yugoslav state; how some marginalized workers negotiated their status and developed survival strategies; which assistance as well as disciplining and repressive measures were taken by state and municipal authorities; which discourses and cultures related to the non-work were developed in this time.

This research project will examine with an innovative perspective processes of state- and nation-building in this region, providing a contribution for a comparison in global terms. Furthermore, adding the point of view of labour and social hierarchy to the already existing studies about Yugoslavia in the interwar period, I will show the ambiguities of the modernizing processes, the concrete implementations of programs of social hygiene, the new social policies and its consequences in terms of social inclusion and exclusion.




Stefano Petrungaro, “Interwar Yugoslavia Looked Through Corporatist Glasses”, in: Antonio Costa Pinto (ed.), Corporatism and Fascism: The Corporatist Wave in Europe, London: Routledge, 2017, 236-256.

Fabio Giomi, Stefano Petrungaro (eds.), Voluntary Associations in Yugoslavia, 1918-1941, Special Issue, European Review of History (in preparation)  

Stefano Petrungaro, „Hostels for Jobless Workers in Interwar Yugoslavia (1921-1941)", International Review of Social History, 59 (2014), 3, 443–471.

Stefano Petrungaro, „The Fluid Boundaries of ´Work´. Some Considerations about Concepts, Approaches, and South-Eastern Europe", Südost-Forschungen, 72/2013, 271-286. 



„Selling Sex in Port Cities. A Global Story“, IOS-GWZO, Regensburg, 8-9.12.2016

„Beggars and Philanthropy across the Former Habsburg Border: Zagreb, Sarajevo, Belgrade“ École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, 01.12.2016

„Lavoro e non-lavoro in Sudest-Europa“, Graudiertenkolleg der Universität in Triest, Udine, 30.06.2016

„Die Nicht-Arbeit in Jugoslawien. Eine Sozialgeschichte (1918-1941)“, Humboldt Universität, Berlin, 29.04.2016

Stefano Petrungaro, "The Parable of Legal Prostitution in Yugoslavia between the Two World Wars", 46th Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), San Antonio (Texas), 20-23.11.2014

Stefano Petrungaro, "The Parable of Philantropism: the Case of Prehrana", internationaler Workshop "Voluntary Associations in the Yugoslav Space since the 19th Century", Central European University, Budapest, 16-17.05.2014

Stefano Petrungaro, "Looking at the Welfare State from its Margins: the Yugoslav Case", European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC), Wien, 23-26.04.2014

Stefano Petrungaro, "Order, assistance and normalization: State and marginal groups in interwar Yugoslavia (1918–1940)", CETOBAC (Centre d'études turques, ottomanes, balkaniques et centrasiatiques) - EHESS (École des hautes études en sciences sociales), Prof. Nathalie Clayer, Paris, 03.06.2013

Stefano Petrungaro, "Arbeiterasyle. Der jugoslawische Fall der Zwischenkriegszeit (1918–1941)", Kolloquium Osteuropäische Geschichte, Prof. Michael G. Müller, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, 16.01.2013

Stefano Petrungaro, "Am Rande der Arbeit. Staat, Gesellschaft und „nicht-Arbeit" in Jugoslawien (1918–1941)", Oberseminar zur Geschichte Südosteuropas, Prof. Marie-Janine Calic, LMU - München, 14.11.2012

Stefano Petrungaro, "Unterwegs. Über einige Arbeitsbewegungen in Jugoslawien (1918–1941)", Forschungskolloquium Neue Perspektiven in der Ost- und Südosteuropäischen Geschichte, Prof. Ulf Brunnbauer, IOS Regensburg, 27.04.2012


Panel "The Changing Boundaries of Female Work in Central and South-East Europe (20th-21st Century)", 46th Annual Convention of the ASEEES - Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies, San Antonio (Texas), 20-23.11.2014

Workshop: “Nicht-Arbeit”: multidisziplinäre Auseinandersetzungen mit einer analytischen Kategorie, Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung (IOS), unterstützt von der Universitätsstiftung Hans Vielberth, Regensburg, 11.10.2013