To understand a past society, historians have to unravel the norms that steer human behavior and interaction, but they also have to consider how people defy those norms in their everyday practice. On 20th November 2019, Sheilagh Ogilvie (University of Cambridge) was invited to follow up a lecture on her new book The European Guilds: an Economic Analysis with a masterclass for PhD candidates and postdocs from three research projects at the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies. (This project, https://www.freedomofthestreets.org/ as well as http://www.inventionoftherefugee.com/).
In The European Guilds, as in so much of her work, Ogilvie investigated why guilds dominated European markets for centuries, despite systematically causing economic and social harm. For the subject of this masterclass, she chose to focus on the interplay between norm and practice. That interplay often takes center stage in her own analysis, explaining how guilds failed in practice to live up to their admirable stated goals such as providing training, quality control, and innovation.
The masterclass’ participants work on projects ranging from gender relations in urban space to the construction of territory in medieval Brabant, and from Jewish transnational advocacy to conflict management and decision making in Hanseatic cities. When confronted by such a variety of subjects it can be a tricky undertaking to find a common theme for discussion without lapsing into catch-all buzzwords. Norm and practice, however, turned out to be an excellent vantage point from which to discuss these heterogeneous projects, tackle shared obstacles, and broaden our conceptual horizons. Ogilvie did an excellent job at leading and steering the conversation; uncovering unexpected links between each of the research topics.
One of the prime questions tackled was how gender norms shape and restrict access to urban spaces, and what it means if such norms are breached in everyday behavior. If, for instance, washerwomen structurally take in laundry in places where the law forbids it, should we consider it a practice in defiance of a norm, or should we argue that it was the norm to go against this law? In other words, are norms defied by practices or by other, conflicting norms?[....]