The social organisation of medieval and early modern urban communities
has long been debated, particularly the significance of norms, networks
and institutions for advancing social integration and cohesion.
Pre-modern urban life is sometimes thought to have rested on a lost form
of association rooted in kinship, friendship and neighbourhood. Others
argue that these relations were particular and primordial: genuine trust
and solidarity based on reciprocity are then regarded as properties of
modern society. More recently, the emergence of corporation-based
institutions (guilds, fraternities, neighbourhoods, etc.) in medieval
cities and towns has drawn much attention. These voluntary associations,
by generating social capital, gave rise to political stability,
fostered economic growth and strengthened societal cohesiveness; and, as
such, they shaped urban civil society.
The last conclusion has met with general acceptance, even though we
still do not know how voluntary associations contributed to the
well-being of both townsmen and urban society as a whole. This workshop,
therefore, addresses the question as to how membership of trade and
craft guilds and religious fraternities benefited individuals and how
these organisations strengthened the cohesiveness of medieval and early
modern European urban communities. It aims to scrutinise the social
texture of these corporations and how their various roles in urban
society developed over time, thereby challenging participants to
re-examine existing data and re-evaluate current theories. The
comparative perspective of the workshop should also be instructive in
determining the factors that explain variations in the role of voluntary
associations as integrative forces in urban society, particularly
between southern and north-western Europe.
The call for papers, therefore, aims to attract contributions on the following themes:
1) Structure and membership: Under what conditions did guilds and
fraternities emerge as the collective consequence of cooperation between
individuals? How did the growth and institutionalisation of these
voluntary associations affect their internal organisation and members’
participation? Which segments of urban society had access to guilds and
fraternities, i.e. how did mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion
operate? And, to what extent were these multi-layered voluntary
associations shaped by kinship ties or ingrained in neighbourhoods?
2) Functions and beneficiaries: How did the secondary political, social
or cultural functions of guilds and fraternities relate to their core
economic or religious purposes? Were secondary functions – for example
social assistance – important motives for joining voluntary
associations? Did benefits of membership also extend to the families of
members? And, to what extent and how did these organisations produce
public goods that benefited the urban community as a whole?
3) Institutional contexts: What kind of linkages and interactions
(particularly through overlapping social networks) existed between
guilds and fraternities and urban religious and secular institutions? To
what degree was their organisation and functioning determined by
variations in the wider urban institutional framework? And, to what
extent did differences in family structures and household formation
patterns affect the social role of guilds and fraternities in urban
4) Ideology and culture: Did ideological, religious and cultural norms
and beliefs emerge that strengthened cooperation within guilds and
fraternities? Were the religious and cultural activities of voluntary
associations interwoven with urban festivities, and to what extent did
they fit into an overarching urban ideology? And, did these activities
contribute to or harm the social cohesiveness of urban communities?
Early career researchers and researchers working on southern Europe are particularly encouraged to participate.
Please send abstracts of around 250 words for 20-minute papers to the organiser, Dr Arie van Steensel (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Deadline for abstracts is 5 December 2011.
The workshop will take place on Friday, 27 April 2012, at the European
University Institute (EUI), Department of History and Civilization,
Selected paper participants will receive reimbursement for accommodation expenses.
Funding is provided by the European Commission under the Seventh
Framework Programme as part of the Marie Curie Actions IEF-project
‘Constructing Solidarities. Kinship Ties and Social Networks in the
Urban Communities of Italy and the Low Countries, 1250-1550’, and by the
European University Institute.
Department of History and Civilization
Arie van Steensel
European University Institute
Via Boccaccio 121
Tel.: (+39) 055 4685571