The Distinct and Gendered Work Identity: Immigrant Women Workers from Bulgaria during the Industrialization Era of Bursa (1968-1978)

Yalçın Özkan
Bogazici University Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History
Graduation Date: 
Ayşe Buğra
The Distinct and Gendered Work Identity: Immigrant Women Workers from Bulgaria during the Industrialization Era of Bursa (1968-1978)

This study scrutinizes how the presence of immigrant women from Bulgaria shaped and changed the gender atmosphere and work conditions in the newly established factories during the industrial expansion in Bursa in the 1970s. During that period the industrial production of Bursa was enlarged and advanced by the newly established sectors and factories. Hereby, this expansion created a considerable labor demand. Although the great share of this demand was generated by the male workforce, especially large textile and clothing factories being activated in that period, it provided women workers with employment opportunities. Despite these opportunities, the women’s economic activity among the female population of the expanding city was remained very low due to strict cultural norms and their lack of experience with industrial production. In contrast to the traditional negative about on paid women employment among Bursa’s natives, immigrant women had relatively liberal cultural gender norms for working as a result of their background in Bulgaria. After the establishment of state socialism, the Bulgarian new rule pursued specific and work-related gender policies which constructed new gender norms among society according to which female participation to labor force began to be seen as a usual and normal component of life. This distinct experience thrust immigrant women to create new gendered work identity which were not only harmonious with the specific discipline required by the industrial factories and also made them one of the economic contributors to their families. Thereby while only immigrant women were employed at the newly established factories as highly as possible.

 Beyond the hiring process and labor force structure, this intensity created specific historical conditions in the large factories’ shop floors. The factories, which witnessed the combination of immigrant women workers and native workers, engendered one of the most significant examples of different usage of various gendered schemas in the production. The cultural differences of immigrant women, their diverse perceptions of work and their distinct gender norms turned the shop floors into different work identities. Correspondingly, by focusing on the workers those who had diverse work identities, this study concentrates on the binary and multiple relationships among immigrant and native workers and the relations between organization and subjects for understanding the negotiation process. As a result of this negotiation, these differences were justified. This study intends to investigate this process historically.