History of freelancing, how it was born, developed and what it is now

History of freelancing: Origins and development

Freelancing has been on the rise for several years now. So much so that it is revolutionizing the very nature of work. But, as is often the case with twenty-first century language, this new practice has crystallized into Anglicism. The result is an interesting paradox: everyone knows what a freelancer is, but no one really knows what a freelancer is. It is not for nothing that this term is more polysemous than ever. What are its origins? What is its history? Let's, take a little journey to fully understand.


Many words are brilliant at managing their multiple meanings. But beware: a genealogical journey through the history of a term is often a rich source of information. So we need to trace the history of a word to see what it can teach us, and let our natural curiosity run wild. The expression "freelancer" came to us from the Middle Ages. It referred to "franc-tiers," soldiers who offered their services to the king in exchange for payment.

They often came from armies that had been defeated in previous battles, and were therefore free to offer their services to anyone they wanted. These soldiers are better known as condottiers. One of the most famous was Wallenstein. This valiant leader of an army of over 120,000 men offered his services to Emperor Ferdinand II of Austria. However, the first appearances of the term conjure up the same thing: soldiers for hire, mercenaries, denoted by their weapon, the spear.

The emergence of the term freelance

The origin of the term "freelancer" is twofold: German and French. In the early 1800s, the term was split into two parts: free and lance. The first part, "free," in German means to love, and the second part, "lance," in French means to throw something with a certain force. The combination of these two terms evokes several interpretations: some associate the term free with the concept of freedom, others with the concept of happiness. Then, around 1920, the space was replaced by the hyphen "free-lance".

In the 1970s, the word "freelance" appeared definitively. Since then, it has moved from the military to the business world. It can be used as a noun, verb, or adjective. Throughout history, the term "freelancing" has been used to describe all kinds of independent, unconnected people, from politicians to journalists to the military. At first glance, this seems consistent with our modern view of freelancing.

Early practices

Freelancing originated in the United States thanks to Jack Nilles and Frank Schiff. At the time, Nilles referred to it as "telecommunications". In the 1970s, public transportation in cities was still underdeveloped. This meant that people living in rural areas could not work in cities. Thanks to the invention of the telephone in 1876, which was already available in American offices, everything changed. From this point on, Neills thought about using the telephone as a solution to transportation problems. Thus was born the concept of working from home by telephone.

Thanks to the development of the Internet in the late 1960s, these workers were connecting with each other to do certain jobs. However, it was the article "Working from Home Saves Gasoline" by Frank Schiff, who headed the Economic Development Committee at the time, that gave a real boost to freelancing in the United States. In it, he describes all the advantages of remote work. And the story doesn't end there: Gil Gordon, a staffing expert, is helping to stimulate the growth of telecommuting by introducing freelancing to a number of government agencies.

What is a freelance?

The Post-Internet era

Subsequently, the Internet revolution and its growing use led to the emergence of freelancing as we know it today. Since the second half of the twentieth century, the number of freelancers has grown steadily as new professions have emerged. Most of their activities are based on intellectual services. This category of workers is still poorly defined: they do not belong to one profession, let alone industry, but rather have the same status - self-employed worker.

Then came the crisis of 2008. And it was these precarious workers who suffered the most: their incomes plummeted. They had no choice but to face a market with little or no social protection and the prospect of a retirement on the brink of poverty or none at all. For the first time, these difficulties gave rise to an unprecedented social movement: freelancers from all walks of life came together to collectively defend their rights and, in particular, to demand full integration into the world of work.

What is the situation today

These days, almost everyone has access to the internet. As a result, it has become very easy for freelancers to communicate with clients. As the number of freelancers has grown, so have the platforms for freelance work. As a result, competition in the market has become tougher than ever. Freelancers can explore different platforms and clients can search for platforms with the lowest rates.

In the past, freelancer's tools were horses and guns. Today, they are laptops and smartphones full of data, with internet access. The democratization of this new freelancer status has shuffled the deck in a world of work that is now too archaic. Many employees become freelancers because of the many advantages: complete autonomy in organizing their work, the possibility of regular income increases, the absence of any hierarchical restrictions, and so on.

A world of opportunities

The prospects for change in the world of work are numerous. According to a study by the international network and think tank RGCS entitled "The Future of Work in 2030: Four Atmospheres", there are four future visions of the world of work. One of them is the hypothesis of hyper-developed freelancing.

In today's world, there are a myriad of paradoxes that play a crucial role in these future projections: a plurality of economic policies in the face of skill growth and constant mass unemployment, mobility and teleworking in the face of sedentary lifestyles, flexibility and autonomy in the face of precariousness, freedom in the face of security, autonomy in the face of control, digitalization in the face of physicality, and so on.



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