Making things on the side
Creativity at a time of institutional decline
in Hot metal
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A ‘foreign order’ is an industrial colloquialism referring to a practice whereby workers produce objects at work – using factory materials and work time – without authorisation. This is an under-explored but global phenomenon that many names, including homers, side productions, government jobs, and la perruque. There are silences about these clandestine acts of creative production in English-language studies. This chapter considers this practice from the interdisciplinary perspective of labour history and material culture studies. Using oral and archival sources, the chapter traces the ancestry of foreign orders to seventeenth century English customary practices of the Commons. It provides an account of a playful and creative culture of pranks and making in a printing factory, and identifies the workers’ motivations for creating foreign orders. Finally, the chapter explains how the making of foreign orders became more overt and politicised over time, as workers sensed their insecurity. This practice of making ‘on the side’ enabled print-workers a degree of agency and the ability to narrativise their own plight.

Hot metal

Material culture and tangible labour

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