We are publishing weekly microreviews on Twitter: short discussions of monographs, edited volumes and articles which have inspired us (#RetroConflictsInspirations). Diplomatic, social, economic, legal history on the one hand, and conflict resolution & management theory on the other.

History meets the social sciences.

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Economies of violence (Esmer)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today’s microreview is on an article which examines the complex role of violence in premodern conflicts. In a very captivating way, Tolga U. Esmer discusses in ‘Economies of violence, banditry and governance in the Ottoman empire around 1800’ how bandits were not marginals, but in fact quite central to the functioning of the empire in modern-day Balkans.

Their actions  were ‘essential aspects of the Ottoman imperial model for upholding a ‘common good’ and achieving order’. Since they acted both in cooperation with officials and on their own behalf, the officials strove to control the narrative about bandits: they were extra-military forces in times of war, and bandits in peacetime. This echoes a phenomenon we encounter in our sources: namely ‘privateers’ and ‘pirates’, who pose challenges of classification because of the boundaries of their liability, of contemporary terminology with an agenda, and of modern day terms to be used in the analyses. Esmer points out there was an ‘economy of violence’ in the exchanges with the officials, with the local society, and within the groups of bandits. Apart from property or money, less tangible aspects like honour, loyalty, social capital played a fundamental role in the choice to take risks or position themselves in the society. These ‘surpluses of human behaviour’ as Esmer quotes after Georges Bataille, need to be taken into account when discussing state formation, land tenure, taxes or conflict management. Again, this evokes a parallel in our project, namely to the role of trust not only in mercantile exchanges, but also in conflict management.

Esmer, Tolga U. ‘Economies of violence, banditry and governance in the Ottoman empire around 1800’, Past & Present 224.1 (2014): 163-199.
Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share 1, Consumption (New York: Zone Books, 1988).


Latest Blog Posts

Cultures of Conflict Resolution in Early Modern Europe (Cummins and Kounine)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today’s microreview is about a highly interesting volume, ‘Cultures of Conflict Resolution in #EarlyModern Europe’ (2016), edited by Stephen Cummins and @laurakounine. It frames conflicts and their management as accounts of change, and in particular discusses the lasting impact of John Bossy’s legal anthropological ‘Disputes and Settlements’ (1983).  

Several contributions take issue with the notion of diminishing violence in the course of history, as posited by Norbert Elias and more recently by Steven Pinker. There are three main themes: peacemaking as practice; varieties of early modern mediation and arbitration; the roles of criminal law in interpersonal conflict. From the point of view of our project, one of the captivating insights is that #conflictresolution was not always positive and consensual, but rather ‘a product of domination and reinforcement of inequality.’ Another is a reminder of Simon Roberts’ statement that the distinction between mediator and adjudicator should be seen as a continuum, not a rigid typology. An article to be highlighted: John Jordan’s very clear historiographical overview of the application legal anthropology is of use for many #twitterstorians, especially for future avenues of research: the role of violence, global approaches, #legalpluralism, the shift from the urban to the rural, and attention to #legalism. [....]

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Anger's Past (Rosenwein)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Considering that it is time for the year’s final #microreview, it seems appropriate to become emotional. However, since this project is about conflict, the chosen emotion is anger. In 1998, Barbara H. Rosenwein, edited a collection of articles under the title ‘Anger’s Past – The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages.’

Instead of discussing the thematically broad individual contributions, we draw our #RetroConflictsInspirations from the varied, sometimes disagreeing interpretations of anger they provide. Emotions were and are an integral part of conflict but pose a particular challenge to historians: how are we to interpret anger when we encounter it in our sources? The contributions to ‘Anger’s Past’ provide us with several options, ranging from earnest emotions to anger as a carefully chosen ‘signaling tool’ in dispute. Taken together, however, the articles remind us to not construct a strict dichotomy between emotion and rationality. A merchant could be truly embittered by a cheating trading-partners and simultaneously instrumentalize this sentiment at court. A king’s angry outburst at a diplomatic meeting could be an earnest emotion while at the same time serve political functions.[....]

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Political Participation and Economic Development (Wahl)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

We’re mostly into the qualitative side of #conflict here at retroconflicts, but a little quantification can be useful to grasp the scale and consequences of historical urban conflict. That’s why today’s #retroconflictinspiration #microreview is about the work of Fabian Wahl.

Wahl’s 2019 article ‘Political Participation and Economic Development’ set out to answer a simple but important #econhist question: which urban political institutions contribute to economic growth. To do so, Wahl investigated 3 ‘participative’ institutions across 282 cities. His three institutions are 1) guild representation in the council 2) citizen representation alongside the council (e.g greater- or outer-councils) and 3) the selection of councilors by election, even if only with a very limited franchise. In line with Sheilagh Ogilvie’s research, Wahl finds no evidence for guild government strengthening economic growth, and in the medieval period it may even have been harmful. Representatives outside the council likewise had no demonstrable effect on growth.
As these two institutions did not make economic contributions, Wahl argues, they must have arisen for other purposes. The most likely explanation, he suggests, is the management of conflict between different social groups involved in urban politics, as proposed by Acemoglu.[....]

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