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Urban community building: inclusion and exclusion

The notion of ‘resilience’ is a powerful metaphor to argue for the relevance of urban history. Yet it is a metaphor in need of social qualification. The influential sociological work of Robert Putnam and his followers has stressed the direct relationship between a past of strong medieval and early modern urban communities and the success of a modern ‘civil society’, arguing thus for the ‘resilience’ of urban social capital. Recent historical critiques, however, have questioned Putnam’s idealising and oversimplified vision of urban communes. They have pointed at the fundamental social and political inequality within past urban societies and at the often violent nature of social relations (Rotberg 2001; Eckstein & Terpstra 2009). Living in a city was as much a matter of exclusion as of inclusion. While the perennial civic community was a powerful ideal during the late Middle Ages and early modern period (see also work package 2), there were always different conceptions of the nature of that community by different social groups and very different levels of incorporation.

The Low Countries make for an ideal case-study. Anthony Black has argued that the foundation of a civil society in Southern Europe did not revolve around the collective values that were so pivotal in Putnam’s analysis, but rather around values such as personal freedom and political equality. The collective values of fraternity, friendship and mutual aid were more characteristic of the ‘guild ethos’ that was allegedly founded in North-West Europe. Yet, the differences within the Low Countries may be very revealing as well. While the political discourse of urban middle groups in the Northern Netherlands was centred on the political and juridical rights of the individual, in the Southern Low Countries it was shaped by a strong guild ethos (Prak et al. 2006).

The important question remains how exactly an urban community was built, maintained or at least ‘imagined’, both from the perspective of those who already belonged (burghers, guild masters) and of those who strove to belong (non-burghers, immigrants). Therefore, this work package proposes to redefine earlier questions and methods developed by the former IAP networks by focusing on the repertoires and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion and on the resulting levels of incorporation. Institutions such as local citizenship, guild membership, systems of poor relief or justice, parishes and neighbourhood networks or the real estate or market all mobilised different repertoires of inclusion and exclusion, whose intentions and effects could vary widely through space and time. A comprehensive view of the wide range of institutional mechanisms and discourses that governed inclusion and exclusion in medieval and early modern towns remains underdeveloped. Empirical research is in its infancy. Most work on guilds and other urban institutions is still carried out from the perspective of representation (rather than participation) and traditional questions revolving around urban autonomy and the restricting role of central authorities. The same holds true for most work on civic identity in the Low Countries, since it usually stresses the perspective of urban political elites (recent perspectives in Boone 2010). Therefore, this work package will combine a bottom-up socio-institutional approach with research on urban visual, literary, ritual and material repertoires and the ways in which these repertoires were appropriated by different social groups.

The organising principle that unites the four constituents of this work package is borrowed from the conceptual framework used in cultural and social anthropology to explore both individual and collective 'resilience patterns' (Adger 2000), or – in other words – the adaptive strategies by which persons or groups attempt to reach a state of 'resilience' in an urban context. The research matrix of work package 3 combines different research units (individuals/groups) with different though often intricate ‘resilience’ factors (the increase of skills and abilities, the extension and growth of social mobility opportunities, the construction of social and cultural identities).


Research themes

1. Citizenship and guild ethos

The following subprojects all deal with the question of how urban dwellers experienced and negotiated the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion in Low Countries cities. These questions will be put into a broad comparative perspective by the Utrecht team (cf. van Zanden en Prak 2006). Maarten Prak plans a comparative study of urban citizenship in the Middle Ages and early modern period that engages with Max Weber’s thesis about urban ‘liberties’ as the foundation for Europe’s exceptional development. This project will question Weber’s ‘essentialist’ approach that pictures the European and non-European world as homogeneous entities. The institutions of urban citizenship, which include in addition to the formal citizen status such urban organisations as merchant and craft guilds, public welfare, and militia defence organisations, can be found throughout Eurasia. In different polities the institutions of urban citizenship were tied in different ways to the institutions of the state, and this explains patterns of urban political resilience (and therefore the effects of citizenship) much better than rough-and-ready oppositions between European and Asian models of state-formation.

Bert De Munck from the UA team is planning a book on the relationship between the urban economy and urban community building (Gilding golden ages: Guilds, economy and community in the Southern Netherlands (1400-1700)). The aim of the book is to connect and confront two research strands relating to guilds, i.e. the debate on the economic rationale of guilds and the debate on late medieval and early modern civil society (cf. De Munck 2010). On the one hand, economic strategies and choices of guild masters were embedded in cultural attitudes towards communal resources, solidarity and mutual aid. On the other hand, values and practices related to civil society or a ‘guild ethos’ were confronted with changing economic ideas and realities. In the long run, the very relationship between community and economy transformed fundamentally in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. While their ‘community’ stopped being the warrant for a good product, guild masters stopped embodying communal values and representing a ‘corps’ in the public realm. The so-called ‘strong’ guilds in the Southern Netherlands will prove to be an excellent case-study. As the guilds in present-day Belgium had a large degree of political clout, they can be considered sensitive indicators for a changing guild ethos in North-Western Europe.

The KULeuven team will develop a case-study on guild ethos and economic resistance to innovation in Low Countries cities. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, the mint production in the Southern Low Countries was organised in mint houses. The monnayeurs more or less possessed a knowledge monopoly and were organised in privileged corporations. In the course of the seventeenth century, the central government attempted to substitute the manual production process by machines. The mechanisation, however, was fiercely resisted by the monnayeurs’ corporations from Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels. Traditional historiography qualified resistance to innovation as a proof of the inertia of early modern guilds and corporations. Joel Mokyr, however, has shown that resistance to innovation could equally be a calculated choice, based on certain conceptions of profit maximisation. Erik Aerts and Brecht Dewilde will investigate this resistance saga to understand how networks were mobilised to exclude innovation. Consequently, the monnayeurs’ case connects the earlier IAP themes of social and human capital with the inclusion/exclusion theme of this current proposal. A workshop on the monnayeurs’ corporations and the social and economic relationships in the mint house is planned.

2. Access to institutions: from mutual aid to the uses of justice

Urban historians examining the workings of social institutions in the late medieval and early modern period have recently shifted their attention from the institutions to the urban populations making use of these institutions. This bottom-up approach is strongly reflected in this subtheme. The focus, in the UA team, will be on access to and participation in guilds and brotherhoods. Under the supervision of Bert De Munck a IAP-funded PhD student (applicant: Hadewijch Masure) will focus on mutual aid and access to late medieval and early modern poor relief institutions. Starting from Katherine Lynch’s idea that there may have been a link between the relative absence of the extended family in an urban context and the importance of brotherhoods and guilds, she will examine exactly who had access to the different types of institutions providing mutual aid and poor relief. An important research question is whether urban belonging became more important as a criterion of entitlement from the late Middle Ages onwards – and if so, whether this was the case in private institutions as well. In order to understand late medieval and early modern transformations adequately, it is important to include the whole range of mutual aid and poor relief institutions at one location – from private foundations such as God’s Houses, to semi-private collective institutions such as guilds, brotherhoods and poor boxes to public assistance. After a prospection of the sources a few cities in the Southern and Northern Low Countries will be selected. A closely related research project will be the IAP-funded PhD thesis (under the supervision of  Chloé Deligne) of Thibault Jacobs from the ULB team. He will focus on the role of some specific charity institutions, namely small hospitals founded in the late Middle Ages. Jacobs will explore the hypothesis that these hospitals were founded by guild members and that their main function was to generate social cohesion and financial support for guild members rather than – as has been previously presumed – to play a role in the medical and social care of pilgrims or the urban poor. The creation of such institutions probably responded to the need of the craftsmen guilds to find new means and new places for exercising and expressing their (strong) ties. Jacobs will focus on hospitals in three Brabantine cities (Brussels, Antwerp and Leuven). There is a direct link with the PhD research of Irène Strobbe (co-tutelle Paris IV Sorbonne, UGent) on hospitals and poor relief in Lille during the late Middle Ages.

The research by Anne Winter from the VUB team interacts closely with the UA, ULB and UGent research in this field by concentrating on interactions between migration, poor relief and social policies in cities of the Southern Low Countries from the early modern period to the nineteenth century. It focuses on identifying conflicting objectives with regard to labour market regulation, the maintenance of social stability and the protection of communal resources, resulting in shifting categories of ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’ newcomers, which in turn shaped individual migration and integration strategies. Winter intends to write a monograph on changing norms and practices regarding migrants’ entitlements to relief in the Southern Low Countries, which she argues had a vital impact on patterns of urban migration, and by extension, of urban growth from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The focus on access to relief provisions also intersects with the PhD by Hanne Provoost (FWO) on charitable giving in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Antwerp and of Rik Vercammen on the inmates of nineteenth-century workhouses. The links with migration regulation in turn tie in with the research of Marie Kervyn de Meerendré at the ULB, funded by the previous IAP, on French immigration in the Southern Low Countries, and with the FWO-funded collaborative research project of Anne Winter and Hilde Greefs (UA), in which two PhD researchers (Ellen Debackere, UA and Alexander Coppens, VUB) study the transformation of local migration policies in Brussels and Antwerp between 1750 and 1914.

The ULeiden team (Manon van der Heijden) in collaboration with the VUB team (Griet Vermeesch) will focus on the topic of the uses of the law. Martin Dinges introduced the term ‘uses of justice’ (Justiznutzung), implying that early modern city dwellers had access to various legal and semi-legal options to pursue their interests. Although scholars underline the strong urban legal traditions in the Low Countries, no systematic research on the uses of justice has been done for this region. The ULeiden and VUB teams will examine the uses of various civil and criminal courts in various towns in the Southern and Northern Low Countries between 1600 and 1800. The research of the VUB team will focus on the uses of civil courts, while the ULeiden team (Manon van der Heijden and a post-doctoral researcher) will focus on criminal courts.  The analysis will include the various options of different social groups, men and women, established residents and newcomers. A research assistant from the ULeiden team will help to develop the project’s database (see above). Manon Van der Heijden and Griet Vermeesch plan a workshop (2012), conference (2013) and book project on this theme.

The VUB team will also launch a new IAP-funded PhD project under the supervision of Anne Winter that combines questions of migration and justice in relation to inclusion/exclusion. The project will investigate the differential treatment of newcomers in early modern urban criminal justice, with particular reference to the ritual importance of banishment as a sentence to identify and punish ‘outsiders’ (Coy 2008). By employing both quantitative analysis and close readings of criminal court records (of Ghent and Antwerp) in the course of the seventeenth century, the research project aims to identify the forms of ‘belonging’ that might have interfered with conceptions of crime and punishment, and at the same time to further deconstruct the notion of ‘vagrancy’ as a malleable but powerful construct of ‘unwantedness’ (Winter 2004).

3. Sense of place: the housing market, neighbourhood networks and intra-urban social mobility

The way in which urban space was organised and experienced also bears a direct relation to patterns of inclusion and exclusion (see also work package 1) and, more particularly, to social mobility. Stressing a long-term perspective and building on the earlier work of Harald Deceulaer and Marc Jacobs, sources relating to formal neighbourhood networks (regulations, accounts, petitions etc.) from the fourteenth till the eighteenth century will be analysed to detect changes in patterns of inclusion and exclusion on the micro level of neighbourhoods. These findings will be confronted with existing data on immigration and intra-urban mobility in Ghent. In addition, a selected number of local narrative sources from the same period (mainly chronicles, see also work package 2) will be analysed to measure evolutions in identification patterns. Did urban chroniclers, with their various social backgrounds, take the city as their only spatial frame of reference or did they also express attachment to the streets, neighbourhoods and parishes they lived in? There is a direct link with the PhD research of Michal Bauwens (UGent-FWO) and Annelies Somers (UGent-BELSPO) on the urban parish in late medieval and early modern Ghent, with the PhD research of Stephanie Van Houtven from the VUB team on neighbourhood formation in a migrant neighbourhood of nineteenth-century Antwerp as well as with the expertise of Heidi Deneweth (VUB) in housing and neighbourhoods in Bruges from the late medieval period to the late nineteenth century.

Integration in the urban community was also negotiated on the real estate market. The KULeuven team will investigate how belonging (or not belonging) to the urban middle groups was achieved through a dynamic interplay between ownership, renting, subletting and concentration of property. Continuing research conducted for his PhD under the supervision of Erik Aerts and building on the work of Chauvard (2005) and Deneweth (see below), Brecht Dewilde will investigate the circulation of immovable property and people in the medium-sized town of Leuven, 1600-1750. Population censuses, poll taxes, house rent surveys and registers with transactions of immovable property will be analysed using GIS and will be combined with a large prosopographical database compiled during his previous PhD research project. The central hypothesis is that in an economy increasingly focused on retailing, location became an ever more important capital good. Social mobility (e.g. from journeyman to master craftsman) seems to have gone hand-in-hand with intra-urban mobility.

Heidi Deneweth from the VUB team will continue her research as a IAP-funded post-doctoral researcher to investigate the relationship between urban household strategies and intergenerational patterns of social mobility in a long-term perspective (16th-18th century). Her central inquiry focuses on how urban households from different social layers responded to long-term changes in monetisation, credit uses, and investment opportunities. The project combines her expertise in urban housing markets and investment patterns with broader and new perspectives on household strategies and social differentiation. By comparing household-centred databases combining nominal information from probate inventories, notary records, fiscal and other serial sources in Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp, she aims to bridge the historiographical gaps between studies on elite, middling and lower group strategies. Instead, she will develop a framework centring on the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in relation to different income strategies, in order to map and explain the trajectories of upward and downward social mobility (see also the link with GIStorical Antwerp, mentioned in work package 1). This focus on social mobility also ties in with the research of Frederik Buylaert (VUB) on elite formation in the Low Countries (14th-17th century) through a quantitative analysis of the processes of social mobility that underpinned both urban and rural elites.

4. Visual, literary, ritual and material discourses of inclusion and exclusion

Urban corporations such as craft guilds and religious brotherhoods made their claims of inclusion and exclusion not only via institutional mechanisms, but also via carefully managed visual and ritual discourses. A clear example is that of the group portrait of corporations (the most famous example is Rembrandt’s Night Watch) that – displayed in guild houses or parish churches – directly communicated who was ‘in’ and more indirectly who was ‘out.’

Besides visual discourses, corporate rituals such as processions, parades, theatre and shooting contests also defined group boundaries. By their very nature, corporate rituals were as much performances of inclusion as of exclusion. Yet, performance studies usually focus on the inclusive function of rituals (Koster 2003). Starting from the corporation instead of the ritual, the KULeuven team (Brecht Dewilde) aims to offer an alternative to current research. Focusing on the medium-sized town of Leuven in the period 1600-1750, a database with data on all ritual performances of the local guilds and confraternities will be constructed. Iconography, choreography, scenery, spatial arrangement, and the use of the built environment will be studied in order to understand how guilds and confraternities devised and manipulated ritual repertoires to keep pace with changing discourses of inclusion and exclusion.

Of course, not only established corporations resorted to the use of cultural discourses in their attempt to mark their place in urban society. An important case-study is provided by the rising social group of ‘bourgeois’, families as well as individuals, who generated a new type of self-advertisement in art and culture. Nathalie Roland (KBR) is studying the construction of a self-image and exclusive discourse by burghers in the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Firstly, the social dimensions of occasional humanist literature (historical, literary, musical and geographical publications) will be studied (cf. Smeesters-Lelubre 2011). These publications often included the names of wealthy burghers in dedications and prologues and served to strengthen relations between these burghers (merchants, politicians) and intellectuals or artists. Secondly, as burghers had themselves portrayed in prints – and on medals –, the study of these documents and objects, as well as their relation to other publications into which they were often inserted, will teach us about their diffusion as well as their functions and uses (Smolderen 2009). Important questions are if these literary and artistic creations are typical urban phenomena and/or if burghers (partially) imitated the nobility? Here, there is a direct link with the work of Frederik Buylaert from the VUB team on the cultural strategies of urban elites, with the PhD research of Sarah Van Bouchaute of the UGent team on literary representations of urban sociability in the sixteenth century and of course also with work package 2.

A closely related research project is that of IAP-funded post-doctoral researcher Irene Schaudies of the RMFAB team on ‘Modulating the Antique: the Robust Virtuosity of Jacob Jordaens’ that was initiated in the former IAP phase. Schaudies will focus on Jordaen’s engagement with the prestigious legacy of antiquity and its transmission and dissemination among broader segments of the population. In contrast to the exclusivity that surrounded familiarity with Rome and its treasures in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries – which manifested itself in phenomena like the learned Latin alba amicorum shared by Antwerp’s humanist-educated magistrate class – Jordaens propagated an antiquity based on widely circulating sources – engraved compendia of famous sites and statues, travel guides, emblem book literature and vernacular translations of famous ancient authors.

In recent decades a good deal of research has been devoted to changes in material culture and the ways in which they reflect societal changes or impacted upon society (De Vries 2008). While researchers have often credited the late early modern period with bringing about a fundamental break in urban consumer models and fundamentally redrawing the social map of the patterns of material culture, Bruno Blondé of the UA team and Wouter Ryckbosch of the UGent team elaborate on a synthesis that should lead to a qualification of this alleged ‘modern consumer behaviour.’ Building on these findings Bruno Blondé and Bert de Munck of the UA team launched a BOF-TOP research line Economies of quality and the material renaissance. The forgotten consumer revolution of the Low Countries in the Long Sixteenth Century. This project responds to the need to develop a long-term perspective in the study of consumer changes in urban societies. It will offer the first systematic analysis of the fundamental transformations of the material culture of the Low Countries during the ‘long sixteenth century’ (1450-1650). The research will be subdivided into the analysis of three exemplary clusters of products (tableware, furniture/interior decorations and clothing), that will be studied by integrating supply and demand. The project will not only examine the transformation of material culture, but also try to reconstruct the social and mental frameworks that shaped the choices of producers and consumers alike. A central question is how material culture and consumer choices reflect or affect inclusion and exclusion in urban society.