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Project 3: Accommodating Newcomers in the Labour Market

Challenge 4: Creating Caring Communities

Aim of the project

Systematic examination of the institutional and communal conditions for the accommodation of newcomers in the labour market.

Theoretical background

Although the EU preaches free movement of people, recognition of professional qualifications, and access to large parts of the labour market are actually regulated by organisations of the most important stakeholders: employers and employees. It has been so for many centuries. These organisations play an ambiguous role vis-à-vis newcomers. At times they have welcomed migrants, for example to relieve acute shortages or to relieve the indigenous workers from unattractive jobs (1960s), at other times they have tried to keep migrants out. This project will examine how distinctive reactions to migrants relate to organizational level or broader societal arrangements. It will also assess how different approaches to migrant workers impact upon their motivation to integrate into (vs segregate from) the host community.

Research design

This project integrates a historical analysis with psychological data examining the impact of different arrangements that can be found in history on the motivation of migrants to integrate into the host society. For instance, formal acknowledgment of one’s professional ability and connecting with fellow professionals (in guilds in pre-modern ages, or in modern labour unions) can empower incoming professionals and foster their integration. Some argue however that guilds functioned as rent-seeking organisations, which excluded ‘weak’ social groups, such as women and migrants, in favour of the established masters and their families. Likewise, modern labour unions may privilege the interests of specific groups of workers and fail to accommodate the needs of newcomers.

Historical analyses will focus on local industries and organisations, to uncover variables of interest that relate to integration of new groups of workers. Psychological experiments can further examine the causal impact of these variables by manipulating (a) formal membership rules (and how these benefit specific groups), (b) informal obstacles that create divisions within the labour force (preventing or promoting efficiency, fairness, equity, equality), and (c) clarity or explicitness of social norms and rules specifying what the labour organization expects from workers and what workers expect from the labour organization.


Maarten Prak, Clare Crowston, Bert De Munck, Chris Minns, Ruben Schalk, and Patrick Wallis, ‘Access to the Trade: Monopoly and mobility in European craft guilds, 17th-19th centuries’, Economic History Review 2018 (forthcoming).

Judith Roosblad, Vakbonden en migranten in Nederland (1960-1997) (Amsterdam, 2002).

Rink, F., & Ellemers, N. (2014). The pernicious effects of unstable work group membership: How work group changes undermine unique task contributions and newcomer acceptance. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 4, 1–18.

Ellemers, N., & Jetten, J. (2013). The many ways to be marginal in a group. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 17, 3-21.

Project initiators

Maarten Prak, Naomi Ellemers


Utrecht University, Department of Social and Economic History.


Expertise in social and economic History, preferrably with an interest in Psychology.

How to Apply

For background information on this vacancy and further instructions, click here.

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