Respectable Professionals

The Origins of the Liberal Professions in Nineteenth-Century Spain

by Raquel Sánchez (Volume editor) David Martínez-Vilches (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection VIII, 414 Pages


Respectable Professionals contains the contributions of fifteen experts about the birth of new professions and the modernization of working practices in old trades in nineteenth-century Spain. The authors consider that professionalism and respectability were the most relevant elements which structured the bourgeois society in the nineteenth century. The economic changes resulting from the abolition of guilds, the extension of the competences of the State and the liberalization of the economy contributed greatly to the renewal of the labour market. This process took place while some other transformations gave rise to the bourgeois society, such as the urbanization, the updating of the educational system or the organization of professional networks and associations. Starting from the sociology of professions, the book reflects on the historical and sociocultural elements that influenced the development of professional society through different case studies that allow us to compare with other European countries. Nowadays we are living through similar changes in the labour market that should lead us to look back and learn from the challenges faced by professionals in the past.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • History and Sociology of Professions: An Introductory Approach (David Martínez-Vilches and Raquel Sánchez)
  • Part I Renewed Professions
  • Between the State and the Market: Engineers in Nineteenth-Century Spain (Darina Martykánová and Juan Pan-Montojo)
  • The Century of Lawyers: The Making of Social Standing of Legal Professions in Spain (1789–1868) (Manuel Amador González Fuertes)
  • Part II Professionals of Warfare
  • Profession with Honour: Modernization and Legitimation of the Naval Officer Corps (c. 1800–1870) (Pablo Ortega-del-Cerro)
  • The Nineteenth-Century Soldier: The Professionalization of the Army (Diego Cameno Mayo and Jaime Tribaldos Milla)
  • Part III Healthcare Professionals
  • A Physician and a Gentleman: Individual Dimension of the Collective Pursuit of Social Standing (Víctor M. Núñez-García)
  • The Healthcare Middle Class: Female Professions and Patriarchy (1856–1931) (Carmen González Canalejo and Rubén Mirón-González)
  • Part IV Literary and Artistic Professionals
  • Towards RespectabilityEjercicio cómico and the Acting Profession (Joaquín Álvarez Barrientos)
  • ‘Art Is Confused with Trade’: The Defence of the Painter as a Profession in the Spanish Fine Arts (1833–1868) (Ainhoa Gilarranz-Ibáñez)
  • Journalism: A Profession for Men of Letters (1820–1920) (Raquel Sánchez)
  • Part V Teaching Professionals
  • Education in the Public Sphere: The Construction of the Reputation of Primary Teachers in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Spain (Eduardo Higueras Castañeda)
  • Professionalization of Female Teachers in the Nineteenth Century (CRISTINA DEL PRADO HIGUERA)
  • Part VI Other Professionals
  • An Anti-liberal Profession in Modern Society: The Parish Priest (1833–1868) (David Martínez-Vilches)
  • Merchants to Businessmen: The Professionalization of Entrepreneurs in Nineteenth-Century Spain (David San Narciso)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

David Martínez-Vilches and Raquel Sánchez

History and Sociology of Professions

An Introductory Approach

There is no doubt that one of the events for which the twenty-first century will be remembered is the pandemic we are currently experiencing. It has led to very significant changes on the international scene, reduced mobility of individuals, curtailed citizens’ rights, changed government priorities, etc. Among these changes are transformations in the world of work. The pandemic has accelerated a process towards teleworking that had already been underway for some years. Many workers had turned their homes into offices and their personal computers into work tools. Online meetings have become a common, almost daily occurrence. The mobile phone, already indispensable for almost everyone, has been transmuted into an organ of the human body, like an artificial extension of the hand. Microphones, cameras and headphones are part of the ancillary accessories of our daily existence. Simultaneously, some jobs have disappeared; others will soon. New occupations are already emerging and more will follow that we cannot yet imagine. In short, we are witnessing an accelerated major change in the world of work, a change that should make us reflect on its consequences and the social and mental transformations that it is generating. We will have to rethink everything from the educational system to the meaning of what we conventionally understand by ‘work’, including labour legislation, the regulation of working hours and productivity, to mention only the most obvious issues.

Rarely do major changes occur suddenly. We are now experiencing one of those rare occasions and we do not always understand the unstable reality we are witnessing. Looking back into the past can be very helpful to ←1 | 2→appreciate such phenomena and that is precisely the origin of this book: a reflection on how these processes of change in the labour area have occurred in other historical moments and how the mentality of an era was transformed through them. At this point, the question arises as to why focus on the nineteenth century? The nineteenth century saw the birth of the modern world through a profound transformation of the political and socio-economic reality. The liberalization of the regulations of the Old Regime, as well as the innovations resulting from industrialization, gave way to the creation of new jobs and the redefinition of existing ones, generated new spaces for economic activity, reformulated social relations under new criteria, gave rise to new needs to be covered by professions that had not yet been known and so on. In fact, as Harold Perkin explained in his classical study about the rise of the professional society in England, it was in nineteenth century when the ‘professional ideal’ was born, facing the outdated ‘aristocratic ideal’ and the new entrepreneurial and working-class ideals. The professional ideal is based ‘on human capital rather than passive or active property, highly skilled and differentiated labour rather than simple labour theory of value, and selection by merit defined as trained and certified expertise’. These three ideals (entrepreneurial, working class and professional) competed in the social and economic markets for resources, power and status.1 In a certain sense, professional practice and, therefore, professionalism itself became a structuring element of modern society.

The sociology of the professions has dealt extensively with these issues, with a special focus on changes in the world of work in the twentieth century, consolidating itself as a solid field of study that has developed a broad corpus in which various theories and schools of thought have co-existed and debated. Developed on the basis of case studies, these theories have displayed different realities on the economic sectors that have been the object of their interest.2 One of the biases that most clearly marks ←2 | 3→the distinction between them is the framework of analysis: Continental European or Anglo-Saxon. To a large extent, the differences are mainly due to the role attributed to the State in shaping a particular professional field. In the study of the sociology of the professions, the State (as a public power) plays a very important role, since it is the source of the regulations governing the exercise of a profession and, in some cases, the control of training processes and ways of access to professional practice. The State also demands services for professionals and generates specialized jobs for its own internal needs, as the civil service shows. At the same time, the role of the State in the study of the different professional sectors refers to an analysis based on the nation-state, which does not invalidate the influences and transfer of practices, customs and regulations from one country to another.3

Historical analysis has fruitfully contributed to the sociology of the professions, sometimes from the perspective of their social history, sometimes from the analysis of the evolution of their regulatory frameworks.4 In any case, the historical perspective reveals the fragility of the borders established by the great theoretical constructions and the importance of flexibility in the meaning of commonly accepted concepts among specialists, such as profession, professionalization and corporatism.5 At the same time, ←3 | 4→it allows us to trace the genealogy of notions such as meritocracy and reflect on its historicity, to link the practice of certain professions and the condition of active citizenship, or to study the process of feminization of some professions, such as teaching and primary healthcare (especially nursing). As we said above, the nineteenth century is a privileged observatory for understanding these processes, which link the end of the Old Regime with a world, our world, also in the midst of a process of transformation. The nineteenth century witnessed the consolidation of the nation-state, the disappearance of guilds and, therefore, the liberalization of the labour market and the mechanization of production processes, which had so many consequences for the remodelling of the structure of the labour market, particularly in terms of unskilled jobs. On the other hand, the value of personal effort and work as vehicles for social advancement contributed to the old duality between manual and intellectual work acquiring new profiles, the latter being associated with high levels of educational training and, depending on the case, social prestige. This also leads us to consider the conceptual differences between work, profession and trade.

The development of this process follows a relatively similar line in the countries of the Western world, which includes Spain, the subject of this book. Spanish historiography has long been concerned with the social history of professions. It is not one of the most explored areas, but its study has never waned, as evidenced by the works published on the subject since the 1980s.6 However, research in this field – and as far as the ←4 | 5→nineteenth century is concerned – has two gaps that this book aims to fill. On the one hand, there is a lack of collective work that would allow us to compare the Spanish professional ecosystem with the situation in other European countries.7 On the other hand, no attention has been paid to certain activities which, from a strict conception of what a ‘profession’ is, have not been considered as such. In some cases, because they are associated with activities outside the productive world (such as the priesthood), and in other cases, because they are difficult to define (such as professions linked to business and artistic creation).8 Respectable Professionals, therefore, moves away from theoretical rigidities to show a global picture of the evolution of the activities that are known as ‘liberal professions’ in a ←5 | 6→broad sense.9 In this book, we will refer to professions that require prior training – to a greater or lesser extent – and that are carried out by their performers as independent professionals, public employees or employees of a company. In other words, jobs that are not essentially manual, which required a particular specialization in a particular area of economic activity and for which income was received in various forms (salaries, fees and other remuneration).

In addition to the sociological considerations that the authors of this book make according to the peculiarities of their field, it also includes cultural analyses that can help to better understand the place of these professionals in the society of their time. Methodologically speaking, the title itself indicates the path chosen. The concept of ‘respectable professionals’ articulates the study on the basis of ‘respectability’ as an objective pursued by the individuals who carried out these activities. As various authors have indicated, from the second half of the eighteenth century onwards, we can speak of the emergence of the ‘modern regime of selfhood’, which would imply a reformulation of the consciousness of the individual self and the concepts that had traditionally been associated with the relationship of the subject with the social whole. Among these concepts is ‘honour’, a criterion of distinction that in the Old Regime was linked to the status and family lineage to which one belonged and that, from the second half of the eighteenth century, began to be ascribed to the individual subject. The way in which the subject, deprived of the protection of his nobility title, had to show their value and social utility (another key concept of the eighteenth century) was through their own actions, as well as their capacity to create wealth and to contribute to the general welfare, in other words, the external manifestation of their activity. The complexity of this change and its consequences cannot be explained in a short paragraph, so we refer the interested reader to specialized literature.10 In a simplified way, it could be ←6 | 7→said that this was projected onto a new model of civility that disciplined interpersonal relations on more horizontal criteria and on the consideration of work and its economic results as the regulatory mechanism of social progress, which found its legitimizing element in the discourse of meritocracy. It can even be said that it was the enlightened monarchy itself that promoted this change of values, not for the sake of social democratization, but the welfare and economic progress of the country. In Spain, the Royal Decree of 18 March 1783, which positively valued the exercise of certain manual professions and, therefore, work, can be considered a symbol of these new ideas.11

Therefore, the key is to be found in the redefinition of the concept of honour that, as early as the nineteenth century, manifested itself in the social status achieved by individual activities, the respect deserved from others and the need to maintain that public image, which came to be identified with the subject himself as their ‘social self’. In other words, we are talking about a concept of honour identified with a person’s public reputation, with the opinion they project outwards or generates in others. Reputation and honour would ultimately condition the inclusion of individuals in the elite, understood in a broad sense. Honour would come to surpass the principle of nobility as a criterion of social distinction, the ←7 | 8→latter becoming a secondary element, more ornamental than truly operative.12 Insofar as it constituted one of the most obvious public activities of the subject, the professional practice became one of the defining criteria of public reputation. The profession, the path through which it had been reached, the prestige that its practice had in society and the economic remuneration it could provide were the pillars on which public reputations were built in the nineteenth century.13 It could be said that the more closed the access – with long training periods and complex qualifying tests or exams – the more prestige the profession attained. Usually, those who were already practising the activity regulated the access to it and were, therefore, the most interested in maintaining strict selection criteria to safeguard the exclusivity of this circle. In this way, intrusion was the object of the harshest attacks because, on the one hand, intruders acted outside the channels of legitimization established for the practice of the profession; on the other hand, the possible malpractice of these individuals could compromise the reputation of the entire professional collective. Professions that did not have restricted channels of access – the so-called ‘open professions’ – generally enjoyed less prestige, except in the case of those individuals who managed to achieve high salaries for their work.

This process was accompanied by a redefinition of the roles attributable to men and women in bourgeois society. Reputation acquired a different meaning depending on the social role of each sex, which is particularly evident in relation to the world of work. As is well known, professional practice was forbidden to women of the middle and upper classes. This does not mean that there were no women involved in certain labour activities, but it was not the rule. In the case of men, bourgeois masculinity, based on common characteristics, manifested itself in different ways in the world ←8 | 9→of work, as will be seen throughout this book. Based on a shared corpus, the peculiarities of the different professions gave the individuals who exercised them specific masculine attributes that modelled a way of being in the public space and, specifically, in the workplace. The profiles were very diverse: from scientific intellectuality and rationality to physical courage and risk-taking, as well as an artistic sensibility duly channelled by academic institutions. In any case, the respectable bourgeois male responded to the canons of professionalism understood as a combination of broad competence in his field (demonstrated by his official qualifications), seriousness in the exercise of his profession (accredited by his clients and recognized by his peers) and a solid social position that guaranteed his economic independence. This was symbolically displayed through an adequate home and attire, a code of conduct and language appropriate to their status and membership of professional organizations for self-recognition as a group.14 In the words of Bourdieu, these codes of conduct refer to the development of an ‘habitus’ linked not only to professional men but to each profession. Naturally, what is described here is the ideal standard, which did not always correspond to the more complex and nuanced reality.

The book Respectable Professionals tries to show all these facets through the study of various professional groups. On the one hand, it deals with the professions that best fit the stereotype described above: engineering and law. To facilitate the understanding of the study, we will group them under the label of ‘liberal professions’, even though they do not always conform to what we conventionally understand as such. As will be seen in the following pages, these professions exhibit a great diversity of situations that lead us to rethink the theoretical frameworks that sociology offers us to introduce other, more flexible dynamics that facilitate their analysis. In the case of Spain, as in other European countries (especially those in the south of the continent), the figure of the engineer was at the time the emblem of modernity because it united science with the physical transformation of space, with the ultimate aim of improving the living conditions of the population. Dr Martykánová and Dr Pan-Montojo explain how these men ←9 | 10→of science became the hope for the physical and intellectual regeneration of the country at a time when its image as a nation was being redefined. Lawyers, for their part, are studied by Dr González Fuertes. They were the architects of the construction of the liberal state, the pillars of the new bourgeois society. In Spain, the legal profession became the breadbasket of civil servants and politicians, embodying the clearest example of bourgeois respectability.

A second group is comprised of the war-related professions and, in particular, the Naval Officer Corps and Military Corps, studied by Dr Ortega-del-Cerro, Tribaldos and Cameno. Among the Spanish military forces, the Naval Officer Corps always enjoyed the highest prestige. Filled with aristocrats in other centuries, in this chapter we will learn how it adapted from the end of the eighteenth century to the new realities of the enlightened monarchy, first, and the liberal state, later. Of particular importance, in this case, is the assumption of a concept of honour that had begun to evolve towards new significances. Meanwhile, the study of the Military Corps offers a very intriguing picture of the modernization process of the Spanish military forces. This allows us to analyse how the process of professionalization of the Army unfolded through the specialization of its elite corps. At the same time, we wanted to find out what image they projected in the society to gauge how they were perceived at a time when civilian and military power were closely intertwined in the management of political affairs.

The healthcare professions constitute the third group to be analysed and, specifically, doctors and women linked to the world of medicine. Throughout the nineteenth century, this sector underwent a profound process of change associated with advances in medical research and improvements in techniques for treating the sick. Sociologically, this was an area in which there was a progressive masculinization of activities previously carried out by women, such as childbirth care. At the same time, there was a growing presence of women in secondary tasks previously carried out by priests and nuns, tasks which thus underwent a process of specialization. Dr Núñez-García provides an insight into the plurality of situations related to the medical profession, paying special attention to the image of the doctor as a scientific hero, capable of improving the living conditions of the ←10 | 11→population. For their part, Dr Mirón and Dr González Canalejo offer us a panoramic view of what they call ‘the healthcare middle class’, in order to understand, from a gender perspective, the hidden realities of this group.


VIII, 414
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (November)
Professionalism in nineteenth-century Spain Social respectability and working market Liberal professions and bourgeois society
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. VIII, 414 pp.

Biographical notes

Raquel Sánchez (Volume editor) David Martínez-Vilches (Volume editor)

Raquel Sánchez is Professor of Modern History in the Faculty of Geography and History at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She has specialized in the cultural and political history of nineteenth-century Spain. She is the researcher-in-charge of the research project which supports this book. David Martínez-Vilches is a researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He has focused on religious history and currently works on his doctoral dissertation about the religious entourage of the Spanish court during the reign of Isabel II.


Title: Respectable Professionals
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