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3 - Living Together in the City: Social Relationships Between Norm and Practice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2018

Bruno Blondé
Affiliation:
Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
Marc Boone
Affiliation:
Universiteit Gent, Belgium
Anne-Laure Van Bruaene
Affiliation:
Universiteit Gent, Belgium
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Summary

The cities of the Low Countries were not only societies characterised by social inequality and polarisation between urban aristocracies and the urban poor; they were also platforms of intense social negotiation, in which all layers of society were involved. If mercantile and landowning elites, managing close interaction with rural aristocracies, were dominant in expressing urban identity at first, gradually other groups achieved access to social negotiation as well. A crucial element for our understanding of urban society is the pivotal role of middling groups, consisting mainly of guild-organised craftsmen and retailers. The changing urban economies of the late Middle Ages and the shifts in standards of living favoured their political and social ascension. The pre-eminent position of the middling groups relaxed the social and political tension that so characterised the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and generated bourgeois attitudes. However, it did not reduce levels of poverty , which worsened in the course of the sixteenth century and forced authorities to develop policies of social discipline but at the same time to restrict general access to poor relief.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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