Main lines and objectives of the program

La façade nord de la Casa de Velázquez, vers 1942

1.    Families of work and forms of State

One of the challenges of this conference is to look at the long term, so as to apprehend the transformation of work into a specific activity, tending to become dissociated from family life by the occupation of specific places. Here, the model of an "industrial revolution" that is uniform but occurs at different times and with different rhythms in each particular country, is hard to sustain. This is evidenced by recent historical writing, which rather suggests a more continuous dynamic, centred around products such as textiles and hides and leathers which predominated in France, for instance, up to the end of the 19th century. There are several factors requiring a comparative and dialectical analysis which intervene in this progressive differentiation of social activities and living spaces, whereby work came to be perceived as a specific activity.

One possible starting point is the diversity of local arrangements and family traditions. And in that case, it is first necessary to trace the varieties of families from one region to another, by means of historical demographics. Such diversity may mean that there are environments more or less propitious for the dissemination of a technical culture alongside potential economic development, for example within the framework of industrial or proto-industrial districts. It will also be necessary to analyse the operation of urban labour markets as an element of the dynamics of work and as a factor in rural-urban population mobility. Such spatial mobility characterising individuals in the labour market opens the door to social mobility, an aspect that may be approached from a demographic and sociological standpoint.

Another avenue of approach is the role of the State, which acted as promoter in countries like France or in Spain and Portugal in the 18th and 19th centuries, with a complex dialectical process of dissemination of productive activities in the countryside and of controls on product quality—driven by the school of Colbertism (or a kind of Cameralism that inspired the economic programmes of Spanish governments in the 18th century), which sought to strengthen the country economically. In any event, recent research has helped to lend texture to those situations by exploring the invisibility of certain activities. Factors such as war likewise play an important part, in the development of the industries necessary for armies and eventually leading, during the First World War, to the organisation of the national economic on an unprecedented scale, and to the concentration of production on a hitherto-unknown level. At the same time, the prohibition of child labour and compulsory education tended to restrict work to adults, ushering in new divisions in life-spans such as childhood, and more recently adolescence—or indeed "adulescence". One of the aims of this project is to trace the time-frames, the rhythms and the characteristics of this process within the social and institutional framework of countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Switzerland. Moreover, in the absence of a centralised State, paths of development tend to be more varied, as in the case of Italy and the striking disparity among the three Italies and their territories.

In the cases of Spain and Portugal we see action by a State resolved to overcome resistance from the old socio-productive structures, which in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries promoted economic modernisation in a context of traditional societies. By taking this dynamic into consideration, it should be possible to determine some specific dimensions in the organisation of productive activities and their relations with family activities. The failure of the State and the feebleness of Iberian capitalism may be one of the factors that could, on another level and in certain parts of the Peninsula, explain the role of the anarchist movement, which exerted a strong influence in favour of the creation of cooperatives and alternative economic experiments. On the other hand, the existence of a democratic form more rooted in social practices might account for the development of a pattern of production that was dispersed but entailed a high level of technical expertise, for instance the Swiss watch-making industry. That is the reason for plotting open pathways, without locking territories and countries into ironclad identities. From a historical standpoint, this approach could go together with detailed observations of the impact of the State or of specific political arrangements on local situations and domestic structures.

2-Contractual uncertainty - Freedom and constraints at work

The role of legal institutions in this tendency for work and productive activities to become separated from other social activities is a crucial one. The constructi0on of a code of labour law and the development of forms of social insurance founded on employers' and employees' contributions brought new categories into social and economic life and encouraged economic actors to identify with one or other category. But what happened before there was such a thing as a Labour Code, a recognised contract of employment or a category of "unemployed", making it possible to assign the same condition to all those working for the same "employer"? The existence of a diffuse productive activity, in the form of durable proto-industrialisation on a district-wide scale brings into question the classical conception whereby workers tended to be classified as wage-labourers. It is likewise worth enquiring into the form taken by wages and the role played by gender in labour relations; and the same applies to the way in which these relations have influenced domestic life, the family and the social status of women in rural areas, and also how they are treated in the legislation. An additional possibility would be a study of the nature and the types of work that developed in 18th-19th-century towns outside the framework of urban corporations, prompting the question: what is work? Similarly, the work done by children, women and the elderly at home or in hospices raises questions about the nature of that work, the remuneration and the possibilities it offered in terms of pay, social relations, activities, etc. Thus, a kind of social history that encapsulates the features of exploitation of wage-labourers in the category of a "social issue" intimately linked to capitalism is at the very least open to question.

On the other hand, a review of the institutional underpinnings of productive activities reveals a far more complex situation in which the condition of the producer fluctuates between that of a self-employed worker or employee and that of an entrepreneur or even a merchant. In the reorganisation of France wrought by the Revolution, it is to the common law of the Nation—that is in the Codes (civil and commercial)—that one must look for the appropriate categories in which to fit very vaguely-defined situations. The hiring of labour under article 1710 of the Civil Code thus covers equally the situation of a workshop overseer employed by a businessman and that of a fellow-worker whom he takes on along with his wife and children. The concept here is that of a form of cascaded subcontracting which served for a time to release labour from corporative oversight, before the emergence of denunciations of lump labour as a form of "inter-exploitation" in which competition of all against all tended to drive down income and prolong working hours to unendurable levels. Far from vanishing under the effects of industrialisation that led to a preponderance of factory work, at the turn of the 19th-20th century home working in the form of a sweating system was such as to provoke specific legislation. In Switzerland, one of the issues addressed in the labour contract defined by the 1807 Civil Code was precisely the possibility of categorising the situations of home-workers, in such a way that the criterion defining an employer was not that of authority but that of exclusivity. This was the inspiration for French jurists to draw up a bill that conceptualised the labour contract for the first time, making it possible at one stroke to rationalise labour law in the form of a Code and also labour itself. What is proposed here is to enquire more closely into the situations in Italy, Spain and Portugal, characterised by a territorial breakdown and forms of transaction frequently founded less on an established legal framework than on bonds of trust reinforced by family roots. The Fascist, Salazar and Franco periods, which ushered in a form of corporatism—a highly idiosyncratic system of labour law and rights—likewise merit examination. For instance, could this be the origin of a form of reaction entailing a degree of relaxation in the regulation of work categories, leading to a multiplication of contractual categories in unemployment policies, and to a substantial level of undeclared work?

The question of remuneration or reward is another area that needs to be addressed. What are we talking about here? Is it compensation in the form of a quid pro quo among families, or is it remuneration for work other than domestic activity? What then does it mean to work for nothing? Is no remuneration the same as no reward? What unidentified forms of compensation are possible in the absence of a monetary medium? What arrangements or negotiations are possible in the absence of remuneration? How does forced or bonded labour (a multiplicity of statuses covering a range which also needs to be examined) fit into our enquiries? There is also a need to lend more depth to these enquiries by factoring in a measure of wages and living conditions in Southern Europe. This is the place to revisit and analyse the institutionalisation of remuneration and wage labour and the history of labour contracts. The institutionalisation of labour law would help to give it concrete meaning for the parties actually involved, by establishing a form of wage or intra-family compensation. Hence the proposal for an approach in terms of capacities—possibly viewed in terms of the individual's freedom to discharge various different functions and develop these functions—implying a tension between capacities and aptitudes; and it is that tension that would generate vulnerabilities (the most extreme of which would be that of the slave). The social State has a major role to play in this regard, inasmuch as it procures—often subject to conditions—resources other than wages earned in the labour market, thus acting as a factor of de-mercantilisation of persons, tending to loosen the grip of the labour market on them. However, the outcome of the transformations in the last 30 years has been the harnessing of the social State to the logic of the labour market, taking the form of programmes of compulsory activation of employment seekers. In this way the State serves to mercantilise the most vulnerable individuals and accepts the subjection of its action to the demands of the market's movers. But at the same time, these programmes can also help people to become more employable and thus enhance their real freedom to choose a job that satisfies them. Such developments—notably in Switzerland but also in other countries—raise questions relating to capacities. The contractualisation of the public action at work in contemporary social policies likewise reflects the ambiguity between on the one hand the rhetorical figure of freedom and the autonomy of the contracting parties, and on the other hand the asymmetry of relative strengths and the constraints on the beneficiaries of the social State. These diverse developments have a significant impact on the play of tension between freedom and constraint in the labour market.

One may hypothesise in a general way that the labour contract wrought a profound change in productive relations by making it possible to demarcate the labour force constituted by all the persons under contract to an employer, where once the predominant relationships were characterised by subcontracting and a succession of inputs by the different trades. This generalised acceptance of the labour contract thus had the effect of rendering common the notion of enterprise. And therein may lie the kernel of an enquiry into the capacities of people, taken individually, to maintain their place in that group—which then prompts the question of how to identify what would come to be known as "qualifications", with a view to explaining the wage hierarchy that came into being in this group.

3. Forms of transmission and construction of capacities/vulnerabilities

In this part it would be especially desirable to examine the changes that the working of markets wrought in the ways that capacities and vulnerabilities were built up and the role of socio-productive modernisation in that area, for instance promoting the emergence of more highly-qualified trades and the marginalisation of poorly-qualified workers—a process known in the urban world of the turn of the 19th-20th century by the name "erosion of traditional trades". The best-documented case is that of Madrid. During the first half of the 19th century the town took in a mass of immigrants from rural areas who found employment in the building trade and in unskilled jobs, putting tremendous pressure on traditional trades. This process developed at a time when Madrid was consolidating its status as an administrative and commercial centre, which prompted the emergence of new trades, further aggravating the crisis of traditional trades by "eroding" them. This in turn fuelled social tensions and unrest in small craftsmen, who were turning politically to the nascent socialism of Pablo Iglesias and towards anarchism. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that the erosion of trades provides a key linking the demographic phenomenon of rural depopulation, the evolution of patterns of mortality, the appearance of hygienist publications and the ongoing changes in urban planning, with the operation of labour markets, and also with the creation of vulnerabilities, the building of capacities, social mobility, etc.

Turning to another process, the division in 19th-century French education between classical culture and elementary and technical culture prompted the step-by-step introduction of two tiers of education: secondary (for the elite) and primary (for the people), which was extended where appropriate with technical or vocational instruction and the introduction of a technical tier during the first half of the 20th century (the structure was completely overhauled by the 1959 and later reforms). The Vocational Proficiency Certificate (Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle–CAP, 1919) was first conceived as a certificate of vocational capacity. The divide between knowledge as such and vocational capacities thus seems to be rooted in the very structure of schooling in France. The notion of capacities deserves particular attention from historians—for what is there in common between what it meant for Durkheim and what it means after the last two decades of the 20th century, when it was absorbed into the reference frameworks for activities, trades and diplomas, as part of the logic of "skills"?

The assumption by the State of responsibility for training would appear to be part of a tendency for the family sphere to be reduced to a minimum and for work to develop as a separate sphere, free of ties with the family as such. Particularly with the progressive "nationalisation" of the CPC and its recognition in collective agreements, it is fair to say that vocational training of workers and employees, and the validation thereof by examination and certification by diploma, are no longer in the private sphere and are now confined to the public sphere—unlike religion where the process has been the reverse. This is again consistent with the introduction of social mechanisms to help mitigate individuals' vulnerabilities. Forms of transmission, capacities to build a career path and choose one's own life, at all times of life (these formulae are recent developments which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, reflecting a complete break with the political movements of Liberation and social philosophy developed in the early 20th century) as these relate to ageing, and the modes of addressing vulnerabilities—handicaps, dependence, etc.—thr0ugh the family, support groups or the State, therefore need to be examined over the full range of socio-economic and political formats. One such format is the "industrial district", in which there is, to a greater or lesser extent, a blurring of boundaries between production space and family space. Besides, the countries of interest here were for long largely rural and agricultural. It is therefore appropriate to look at modes of transmission and learning in agricultural work. With the institutionalisation of agricultural training, farming became increasingly a trade that one learned. The modernisation of agriculture required the learning of new competences and know-how in order to do more than simply reproduce routine practices learned within the family. Regarding the notion of "industrial districts" that has been used for some thirty years now to designate concentrations of enterprises operating in particular sectors, referring to the store of practical know-how accumulated in such concentrations, the economist Alfred Marshall, one of the precursors in the field, concluded that it was a question of proximity, where technical know-how was "in the air". Such an organic explanation for the transmission process shows how difficult it can be to envisage a sphere of work that is the same wherever or how old one is.

There would therefore seem to be a need to enquire into how, over the long term, vocational know-how and the skills necessary to carry on a trade have been passed on. This ties in with our discussions on the family (transmission within the framework of the family or through a "surrogate father" in the Compagnonnage system for example), from a gender-specific standpoint (what were women taught and for what purposes?), regarding modes of contractualisation (how capacities, skills, competences, etc. are taken into account in the hiring of employees, and what criteria apply. It is essential to examine the conditions in which these notions made their appearance in the world; likewise the conditions and the ways in which they have spread through the world of vocational and then technological training, in order to gauge the challenges that they pose, particularly as regards redefining the condition of wage-earners in France and in Europe), or regarding ownership (patrimony as an essential factor in social reproduction? ). 

4. Work-related assets and transfer of ownership

For a long time the predominant interpretation of the origins of European industrialisation has been that it was the outcome of a process of dispossession and privatisation which began in England in the Modern Age with the Enclosures. According to that interpretation, the enclosure of open fields had two main consequences: the emergence of a culture of exclusive individual ownership and the transformation of a mass of peasants driven off their land into a working class apt for employment and exploitation in the factories. These changes, it is held, completely transformed ownership and labour, which hitherto had been framed within the same domestic and community environment, into individual and impersonal relations, with the birth of the proletariat as a social class and the progressive breakdown of primary social structures linked to the patriarchal family. Pursuing this narrative further, private ownership and wage labour were thus viewed at once as signalling the emergence of capitalism and as being responsible for the depersonalisation and weakening of social ties that went hand in hand with that emergence.

During the last few decades, research into countries other than England has tended to show that the story is rather more complex. Considering for example the "cosy" rural industry of the French countryside, the development of industrial districts in the Italian mezzadrili areas and in the Iberian Peninsula, or the persistence of widespread home working in the Swiss economy, this literature has shown that in numerous historical contexts the course of change in ownership and labour has been much less linear than depicted in the classical narrative based on the Enclosures. In the history of property rights, analyses of systems of ownership under the Ancien Regime have uncovered a complex juridical grammar in which ownership referred to a range of rights not confined to the dichotomy private ownership/collective ownership. Within this composite framework, share tenancy or other types of dissociation and sharing of land and property rights, rather than preventing the upsurge of capitalism, have in some cases offered a source of economic facilities for entrepreneurs and workers in terms of availability of capital, access to credit, or provisions against conjunctural hazards and risks. In the history of labour, the classic employee/employer divide has likewise come into question, particularly in the light of studies on the hybrid status of the artisan, and also as a result of enquiries into the structure of labour hiring, which show that workers had opportunities to become proprietors of their own workshops and their trades. It is also worth bearing in mind that in late 19th- early 20th-century Europe, small family businesses and small manufacturing shops were the backbone of the continental industrial fabric, and furthermore it was common for workers to set up their own workshops and businesses. The mobility of labour and social mobility are issues that also need to be addressed. Moreover, property includes the ownership of slaves, which prompts the need for a debate on the contradictions between the right of ownership and the right of individual freedom. And again there is the question of the links between property ownership and family institutions. Consider in particular Napoleon's Civil Code (which had some influence in Switzerland and was the model for Italy's law code) and the debate on the transfer of property rights via inheritance. And then the notion of the "common good", which came to the fore in the 20th century within the context of a neo-Thomist Catholic dynamic, could prove illuminating in debates and alternative experiences vias-à-vis classical capitalism. Such an approach could be adopted within a broader debate on the collective ownership of capital goods, particularly regarding sequences of construction and/or dissolution of collective ownership—the making and unmaking of collective ownership of labour.

On that basis, the fourth line of research would be an enquiry into the links between ownership and labour, from the standpoint at once of the legal and contractual structures on which these links developed, and the repercussions of that development in terms of exclusion/inclusion, protection or vulnerabilisation of individuals, families and communities. How does the transformation of patterns of ownership relate to transformations in labour? How did the restructuring of ownership fit in with the shift from a system of predominantly domestic activity to a separation of labour within a context of greater life expectancy? And finally, what did ownership contribute to the formation of entrepreneurial capacities?