Factories Against the Clock: Time-discipline and Resistance in the Silk Reeling Factories of Bursa 1850-1915

  • Zeynep Ecem Pulas Humboldt University and Free University Berlin


What can the study of different regimes of time discipline in factories and deviations in their measurement tell us about the relationship between capital, labour and the state authority in the Ottoman Empire? In this article, I will answer this question by analysing the official letters and petitions of the Bursa Silk workers to explore how “watchless” people understand and negotiate new time patterns emerged from mechanized production. I argue that the mechanized factory production did not result in a clock-measured, regular working day up until the early twentieth century in silk factories of Bursa. These irregular labor patterns, however, cannot be explained by the immature scale of the industry or lack of labor rationalization. The answer lies at the heart of the working day: such irregularity enabled employers to increase, to say it in Marxist terms, the absolute surplus value. Furthermore, I will argue that the demand for regimented work hours came not from the capitalists, and it was not the Ottoman government`s top-down reforms. Rather, the demand to curb all-invading, irregular work hours came from the young female laborers who were deemed the least “time-conscious”. In this light, the story of Bursa decenters the male-dominated view in the global history of economy and labour and adds nuance to our understanding of the temporalities of capitalism.

Author Biography

Zeynep Ecem Pulas, Humboldt University and Free University Berlin
Global History MA student