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Were Medieval Corporations Designed? A Comparative Analysis of Urban Guild and Fraternity Statutes

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Van Steensel, Arie
Conference: Design and Dynamics of Institutions for Collective Action: A Tribute to Prof. Elinor Ostrom, Second Thematic Conference of the IASC
Location: Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
Conf. Date: 29 November - 1 December
Date: 2012
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/8600
Sector: History
Social Organization
Region:
Subject(s): institutional analysis--IAD framework
ritual and religion
evolution--theory
Abstract: "Institutions are commonly understood as social rule-systems, and rules as humanly devised constraints and incentives that structure the interactions of individuals. The creation of institutions for collective action is thus regarded as the outcome of intentional human design. Optimal institutional design, therefore, has become a major concern for policy-makers and scholars. Intentional explanations for the origins of or changes in collective institutions, however, are problematic for at least two reasons. Firstly, institutions often have no single designer and are too complex to be designed in one step. Secondly, institutions do not evolve in a vacuum: their design is shaped by accidental circumstances or the result of a path-dependent development. This paper addresses the question of institutional design with a two-fold goal. First, it explores the possibilities of developing an alternative understanding of the evolution and design of institutions, drawing on recent developments in evolutionary theory. Second, it develops a case study to test the possibilities of this theoretical approach. To this end, the statutes of occupational guilds and religious confraternities in late-medieval Ghent and Leiden are examined. The qualitative analysis of these sources shed light on the question as to how the rules that shaped these cooperative institutions were designed, adapted and transmitted, and which internal and external pressures explain the selection of rules. In more general terms, the aim is to gain better understanding of the mechanisms behind the replication of rule-systems, and of the grammar of cooperative institutions that explain their flexibility and resilience."

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