State social policies and the related administrative practices have contributed substantially since the end of the 19th century to producing and normalising new forms of work in Europe. This has given rise to new rights and obligations and changed the relationship between a state and its citizens. The article looks at struggles on the opportunities and requirements for legally practising a trade in Austria in the period from 1918 to 1938, focusing on procedures for granting licences to trade. Besides the applicant and the Office of Trade, numerous other authorities (with different and often opposing interests), organisations and individuals could be directly or indirectly involved in these procedures. The article presents the findings of a systematic comparison of various attempts to obtain a licence to trade, highlighting the different situations and interactions in which arguments over the legitimacy of a given trade took place. The focus is on trades with little or no need for capital, premises, materials or formal qualifications, the licensing of which was nevertheless frequently dependent on a lengthy and laborious process of assessment. The methods by which applicants endeavoured to approach the authorities (or indeed avoid them) are outlined, along with how they made use of official categories, how they pursued their application with varying degrees of persistence and success, the information and arguments they put forward, and ultimately the role they played in shaping public administration (and thus also the opportunities and requirements for practising a trade).