Department of Contemporary History, Faculty of Social Sciences and Media Studies, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Barrio Sarriena s/n, Leioa, 48940, Spain.
A tenured professor at the Department of Contemporary History of the UPV/EHU, José Javier Díaz Freire is also the director of the ‘Modern Experience’ research group.
Díaz Freire’s research career has revolved around the quest for a theoretical and methodological renewal of historiography, with the aim of improving its performance as a tool for social transformation; hence, his initial critical reflections on structuralist Marxism and subsequent shift towards language, which allowed for the incorporation of the gender perspective and would ultimately lead to the history of emotions.
His first studies, which addressed the Second Spanish Republic, are outstanding for their use of a then innovative methodology, influenced by the so-called ‘linguistic turn’, in social sciences and liberal arts. The aim of this research was to explain Republican political dynamics in terms of both the expectations and frustrations that the Republic aroused among its proponents and the rejection that it provoked among its detractors. But relating both phenomena to the different political cultures at the time by presenting them as a dialogue revolving around the same theme: the dichotomy of civilization versus nature. The conclusion reached was that the political culture of the left gained an advantage in that confrontation because its discourse was better adapted to the idea of progress characterizing modernity.
His subsequent research endeavours have continued to focus on that commitment to the theoretical renewal of historiography in line with what is now known as ‘post-social history’, but subjecting the discursive paradigm to a critique based on the concepts of body, emotion, and experience, and enriching it with the gender perspective. This has made it possible to explain why the policies aimed at rebuilding the social order during the 1920s turned into an attempt to reform the female body; and why the initiatives of the dictatorship went hand in hand with those of the Catholic right. For the Church, moral reform had to encompass not only public behaviour, as was intended by the dictatorship, but also private life as a whole. Moreover, this was the Church’s main sphere of activity. Hence, its prominent role in countering the female fashions and behaviours that it considered immoral.
On the same theoretical basis, Díaz Freire has also performed a set of studies that could be classified as a deconstruction of primal Basque nationalism. The idea that guides them is that the construction of nationalism was that of a body that received and generated national emotions. The production of the body of the Basques took place in a context characterized by an intense questioning of the Basque identity fostered by modernization, in the form of an examination and subsequent idealization of the characteristics of that body. On the strength of this idealization, Sabino Arana upheld the moral superiority of the Basques over the immigrants in the Basque Country and construed his nationalism as a policy for protecting the former from the latter.
Another of Díaz Freire’s lines of research continues the study of modernity from the perspective of the history of emotions. The conclusion that has been reached is that the human experience of modernity is melancholic, which is exemplified by the study of Unamuno’s reaction to the disappearance of the traditional Bilbao as from 1876. But this research is not restricted to a particular case; the Unamunian experience is put forward as an expression of the baroque experience of the modern, which in the case of human beings is characterized by melancholy and in that of objects by disenchantment.
His most recent publications address the transformations experienced by masculinity and complement, from the gender perspective, the study of the experience of modern society. The approach to this issue has required a simultaneous effort of theoretical substantiation, problematizing the concepts of modernity and modernization, while confirming an emotional and gender approach to history.