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Reviewed by:
  • A Social History of Spanish Labour: New Perspectives on Class, Politics and Gender
  • Francisco J. Caspistegui
Piqueras, José A., and Vicent Sanz Rozalén (eds.) —A Social History of Spanish Labour: New Perspectives on Class, Politics and Gender. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007. Pp. 330.

Until recently, it has been difficult to recognize how normal Spain is in comparison with the rest of Europe. Its cliched image, nineteenth-century Romanticism, and Franco's long dictatorship gave rise to almost insurmountable obstacles in the process of examining the history of Spain using European guidelines. Much the same is true of its social history and particularly of its labour history, which, in fact, as the editors of this collective volume underline, did not appear as such until the last gasps of the dictatorship in the early 1970s. Even then, as the introduction to the historiographical review states, the weight of ideologization in reaction to the dearth of freedom hindered historiography, and only in the early 1980s did it begin to shake off its ideological dead weight. In fact, the articles that make up this volume bring together academic writings starting in the 1990s, a fact [End Page 259] reflected in the authors' profiles. But the articles also show a good balance between theoretical and methodological reflection (Pé rez Ledesma, Pérez Fuentes, Paniagua, and Casanova) and empirical analysis (in the remainder); they focus on Spanish regional diversity, which is of such importance in the history of the country and in the particular forms of its labour structure. Thus there are articles dealing with work in Catalonia, the Basque Country, Andalusia, Valencia, Castelló n, Madrid, Asturias, and Aragó n, without omitting the generic Spanish framework as they touch on the creation of a radical culture under the shelter of the First International, the Civil War, the Franco era, or revolutionary ideas in diverse organizations. Moreover, the presence of women is seen in two specific articles (Pé rez Fuentes and Sarasú a) and also in all the other texts as a gauge of that sensitivity that is becoming more common in Spanish historiography. Finally, as a sample of the diversity of the 15 texts, there is a review of labour issues from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of Francoism, although the Restoration period (1875–1923) predominates.

All in all, this selection of works is a clear reflection of the evolution of historiography, including that of Spain, towards perspectives that give precedence to a cultural and anthropological vision. Indeed, the attention paid to language (without scaling postmodern heights) is revealing. The initial reflection by Pérez Ledesma is especially important, as he emphasizes the language used, first because it gives shape to the experiences and secondly because, when nothing existed with which to define or refer to social structure and its components, it was impossible to be aware of belonging. His analysis of the core process of words such as exploitation or emancipation shows a route that is close to the history of concepts. This is no exception, as other authors show the importance that words acquired in the development of an identity and in the shaping of the tools used to perceive a changing reality. Uría, for example, analyses the changing perception of words like riches or profit among the mixed workers of Asturias, and Paniagua examines the different concepts of revolution among Republicans, Socialists, and Anarchists. Apart from language, the above-mentioned attention to anthropology and popular culture must be emphasized, as an attempt to limit the distance between time spent working and time spent not working by examining a social group rather than an activity. This can be seen in the use of literary texts, such as the references to La forja de un rebelde by Arturo Barea in the study of Madrid washerwomen, or a reference to Joaquín Dicenta in the context of the Linares miners. In short, this interest is reflected in explicit references to the British model embodied by E. P. Thompson as well as more critical references to E. Hobsbawm. We must also emphasize the focus on daily life, such as the material conditions and morals of the Biscay miners...


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