Mercedes Arbaiza (Bilbao, 1963) is a historian who earned her PhD in History from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) in 1994, after which she gained pre-doctoral experience at the Department of Economics and Business of Pompeu Fabra University (UPF).
Arbaiza has been a tenured professor at the Department of Contemporary History of the UPV/EHU since February 1997, where she currently delivers lectures on social history and industrial relations to undergraduates at the Faculty of Industrial Relations and Social Work. She also lectures on subjects relating to the construction of modern societies from a gender perspective in different Master’s degree programmes of the UPV/EHU:
• Interuniversity MA in Contemporary History, ‘The Contribution of Gender to Social Construction’ (together with Miren Llona).
• MA in Feminist and Gender Studies, ‘Feminism, Subject and Modernity’.
• MA in Human Resource and Employment Management, ‘Gender Politics and Employment’ (together with Isabel Abella).
Arbaiza teaches the ‘Circulation of Affections and Emotions II’ module of the Master’s degree programme ‘Artistic Practices and Cultural Studies. Bodies, Affections and Territory’, organised by the University of Navarre and the Huarte Contemporary Arts Centre.
Since 2001, she has formed part of the ‘Modern Experiences’ Consolidated Research Group of the UPV-EHU and is currently the principal investigator of the ‘Modern Experience’ Research Group of the Basque University System (IT 1784-22, 2022–2025), recognised by the Basque government as a group of excellence since 2019.
Arbaiza has performed her research in two stages. From 1990 to 2000, she formed part of the research team led by Manuel González Portilla in the fields of historical demography and social and economic history. In this context, she defended her PhD thesis in which she reviewed modernity in the Basque Country from a longue durée perspective (1825–1936), through a set of social practices that were considered to be ‘private’. In her desire to democratise the historical discipline, Arbaiza addressed social and cultural changes by analysing demographic and family regimes, land and tangible asset conveyance systems, the work experiences of men and women, their mobility patterns and their access to resources, depending on the forms of hierarchical or egalitarian authority.
Since 2001, Arbaiza has focused her research on reconsidering the object of study of modernity, drawing from the main thesis of the ‘Modern Experience’ research group of which she forms part. Giving priority to the cultural sphere as an example of subjectivity and human action, she has approached the issue of identities and the labour economy from a gender perspective. She has also broadened the field of the production of meaning of modern experience, placing the spotlight on two noteworthy lines of research: a) A history of the constitution of feminine identities in relation to labour in Spain, in the framework of the history of the formation of the working class in modern societies; and b) A feminist epistemological critique of the premises of the labour economy and the content of its categories.
Some of her most relevant publications in this regard are as follows:
- Arbaiza, M. (2000). La ‘cuestión social’ como cuestión de género. Feminidad y trabajo en España (1860–1930). Revista deHistoria Contemporánea, 21, 395–458.
- Arbaiza, M. (2002). La construcción social del empleo femenino en España (1800–1935). Arenal: Revista de historia de las mujeres, 10, 215–239.
- Arbaiza, M. (2003). Orígenes culturales de la división sexual del trabajo en la sociedad industrial (España, 1800–1935). In C. Sarasúa and L. Gálvez (Eds.), Mujeres y hombres en los mercados de trabajo, ¿Privilegios o eficiencia? (pp. 189–216). Universidad de Alicante.
- Arbaiza, M. (2012). Economía en tiempos de postmetafísica: una perspectiva feminista. In P. Pérez Fuentes (Ed.), Subjetividad, Cultura Material y Género (pp. 239–277). Icaria.
- Arbaiza, M. (2014). Obreras, amas de casa y mujeres liberadas. Género, trabajo e identidad obrera en España. In M. Nash (Ed.), Feminidades y Masculinidades. Arquetipos y prácticas de género (pp. 129–158). Alianza.
- Arbaiza, M. (2016). Genere, economia e storia. L’episteme femminista in tempi di crisi. Genesis. Rivista della Societá Italiana delle Storiche, XV(2), 15–38.
- Arbaiza, M. (2016). Mujeres trabajadoras. Una visión histórica (ss. XIX y XX). In Mujeres en Alava. Pasado, presente y future (pp. 27–56).ACOA-AKE, Juntas Generales de Alava.
Since 2013, Arbaiza has shifted the focus of her research towards reconsidering the theoretical and methodological foundations on which political experience rests, summarised in the phrase, ‘the emotional is political’. She is currently studying the role of emotions and affections in shaping political subjectivities and social antagonism, without abandoning the post-metaphysical position characterising the line of the research group. Emotions as objects of study are historically interesting in that they are understood as agents of protest and political tension, as well as one of the principal driving forces behind historical change. She interprets emotional experience in terms of a development that explains why new collective subjectivities (social movements) can emerge.
Arbaiza has analysed several historical experiences: the socialist movement that emerged in Spain at the end of the nineteenth century (1884–1890) and which led to the first major general strike in 1890; anticlerical, liberal masculinity rooted in emotions inherent to modernity and which she has defined as ‘losing the fear of God’; and the malaise or suffering of women in Spain in the 1960s, as well as the origins of second-wave feminism. On the other hand, she has interpreted the historical conditions that converted Christianity into a new religious movement in the first three centuries of the Common Era.
Some of her most relevant publications in this regard are as follows:
- Arbaiza, M. (2013). La formación emocional de la clase obrera, a través de Julián Zugazagoitia. Historia, trabajo y sociedad, 4, 119–221.
- Arbaiza, M. (2015). Cuerpo, emoción y política en los orígenes de la clase obrera en España (1884–1890). Ayer,98(2), 45–70.
- Arbaiza, M. (2018) ‘Sentir el cuerpo’: subjetividad. y política en la sociedad de masas en España (1890–1936). Política y Sociedad, 55(1), 71–92. http://dx.doi.org/10.5209/POSO.56798
- Arbaiza, M. (2019). Dones en Transició. El feminismo como acontecimiento emocional. In T. M. Ortega López et al., Mujeres, Dones, Mulleres, Emakumeak. Estudios sobre la historia de las mujeres y del género (pp. 267–286). Cátedra.
- Arbaiza, M. (2019). Volviendo a los orígenes. El cristianismo como acontecimiento emocional. Estudio Agustiniano, 54, 547–576.
- Arbaiza, M. (2021). El malestar de las mujeres en España. Arenal: Revista de historia de las mujeres, 28(2), 415–445. https://doi.org/10.30827/arenal.v28i2.11799
- Arbaiza, M. (2021). Perder el miedo a Dios. Masculinidad moderna y emoción liberal en España (1900–1931) a través de los relatos. Historia Social, 100, 95–116. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27015456
Other relevant publications
- Arbaiza, M. (2020). Tiempo de interrupción. Reflexiones en cuarentena. Iglesia Viva. Pensamiento crítico y cristianismo, 281(1), 125–130.
- Arbaiza, M. (2019). La verdad poética como política de la memoria. In V. Urrutia (Ed.), Memoria de silencios (2nd ed., pp. 7–20). Ediciones Vitrubio.
- Arbaiza, M. & Pérez Fuentes, P. (2020). Feminizando la ciudad. El movimiento feminista en Bilbao (1976–2018). In M. Toral (Coord.), Bilbao, la gente. La ciudadanía en la construcción de la ciudad. 40 años de democracia municipal (pp. 21–28).Cultura Abierta-Kultura Irekia.
With Miren Llona, Arbaiza co-supervised the PhD thesis of Eider de Dios, ‘Servant, Maid, Domestic Help. Gender, Class and Identity in Francoism and the Spanish Transition through Domestic Service (1939–1985)’, and with Nerea Aresti that of Maialen Aranguren, ‘Political Anatomy of the Feminist Body. The Basque Autonomous Movement (1975–1994)’, deposited in March 2023.She also received the 2016 Victoria Kent Prize and the 2016 Miguel Artola Prize awarded by the Contemporary History Association.
Since 2008, Arbaiza has been in charge of the Collaboration Agreement between the Ramón Rubial Foundation and the UPV/EHU for performing studies and research on the history of culture and memory of the socialist movement in the Basque Country. This agreement has led to the creation of the Basque Socialism Documentation Centre (www.ramonrubial.net). Similarly, she has led the project ‘Ramón Rubial: History and Memory’. Narrated in the first person, it is the story of a unique Basque whose life coincided with the principal milestones in the history of twentieth-century socialism.
Arbaiza has also led the project, ‘History and Memory of Feminism in Biscay (1904–2018)’, funded by the regional government of Biscay (Department of Employment, Social Inclusion and Equality). In this context of collaboration, she has curated the exhibition, ‘ZUTIK, ZUTIK, ZUTIK Mugimendu feministaren historia eta memoria Bizkaian (1968–1994). History and Memory of the Feminist Movement in Biscay (1968–1994)’. The eponymous book, written in collaboration with Maialen Aranguren, covers its most important aspects, which are also described in the following publications:
• Digital journal Galde
• Digital journal Andra eus
• Journal Passes Futures, no.12, December 2022. https://www.politika.io/fr/article/el-feminismo-tiene-una-matriz-contracultural-que-mantiene-vivo-y-construccion
Lastly, Arbaiza is a member of the advisory board of the Historia Contemporánea collection, published by the UPV/EHU Publication Service, and of the editorial board and drafting committee of the journal Historia Contemporánea. Furthermore, she is a member of the executive board of the journal Iglesia Viva.
Arbaiza also forms part of the Contemporary History Association, the Spanish Association of Women’s History (AEHIM), the Society for Basque Studies (Eusko Ikaskuntza), the Renisce Network and the Ibero-American Society for History of the Emotions and Experience (SIHEX) Network.
Arbaiza’s main publications can be consulted at: