Histoire publique

The image of Industrial Life and Vocational Training: Scouting as Liminal Learning Space (Luxembourg, 1920s)

While there is a large body of research on corporate photography, little has been written about the visualisation of young workers. This paper looks at a specific set of corporate images, namely photographs of apprentices of the Luxembourg steel-manufacturing conglomerate ARBED, and analyses how these young workers were visualised. The paper draws on a collection of approximately 2,250 glass plate negatives of ARBED’s industrial cosmos, originally stored at the company’s vocational school, the Institut Emile Metz, and now archived at Luxembourg’s Centre national de l’audivisuel (CNA). The roughly 160 images of young apprentices contained in the collection put on display the apprentices’ bodies and activities in various contexts and environments – in the classroom, the school yard, and the gym; in workshops and the institute’s psychophysiological laboratory; at the Belgian coast, in Luxembourg’s forests, and in urban spaces like London. A selected number of images were published in promotional brochures, showcasing these places, spaces, and activities and their different levels of “cultured” and “natural” properties. Thematically, the paper concentrates on (1) corporate photography as a means of identity formation by depicting apprentices in various places and spaces; (2) the creation of workers as cultured men and ideally educated workers through a diversity of recreational activities; and, most importantly, (3) the question of how leisure activities served as liminal spaces to stabilise the work sphere and how social and cultural belonging was visually forged between urban and natural landscapes, between industrialisation and ‘nature’ in order to make apprentices fit for Western industrialised societies. The images and their contents testify to a constant mix and re-mix of different learning environments intended to educate the natural, urban, mobile, and communal future worker in order to achieve societal harmony – also by including pre-industrial spaces and open-air activities as liminal spaces for experimentation that were set apart from the profane while mitigating the risks of industrialisation.

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