The Working Worlds of Saleswomen in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1949-1996


This project centers on changes for the female workforce in the retail industry. The working world changed dramatically for saleswomen with the introduction of self-service shopping. Products were no longer hidden away behind shop counters but were now on open shelves for all to browse. Retail shops also expanded their surface areas and selections. The work of saleswomen would be increasingly limited to monotonous and physically strenuous activities such as cashier work and stocking shelves. Working hours would also change, with an increasing number of women working part-time and not being permitted to decide on and plan their own schedules. Closing times would also be the subject of ongoing debates, while the social relationship between saleswomen and their customers would change as well. The study follows a praxeological approach and investigates selected retail companies regarding the working practices of their saleswomen. It is also presumed that the saleswomen themselves molded the practices of shopping and sales through their work. Processes of rationalization, mechanization, and flexibilization also affected the further development of this area of work, in which an especially large number of women were active beginning in the 1960s. The study is thus part of the broader investigation of structural change since the 1950s.

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