Research Themes (extended descriptions)

Here you will find more extensive introductions to the research themes. Please take notice that the introductory texts underneath are preliminary texts. These texts therefore may be subject to future alterations. 


Research Theme: The Household Economy and institutions for collective action

Institutions for collective action provide solutions for problems that cannot be resolved individually. To understand under which circumstances such institutions emerged, it is crucial to look at the challenges households faced, and why they reached out, cooperated and created institutions for collective action. Institutions for collective action were not the only possible solutions. There were several other ways for the most basic economic unit in society – the household – to make ends meet, such as turning to family and friends in the event of adversity, or to state welfare programs. Households could also take precautions by saving for a rainy day and purchasing insurance. It is impossible to understand the rise of institutions for collective action without taking into account the development of these alternatives. How much support could households in history expect from family members? Did public authorities provide poor relief? And when did households get access to financial services, such as deposit banking and insurance, that allowed them to make their security arrangements? Within this research theme we investigate how households responded to risks. In general they had recourse to a multitude of security arrangements: the safety net of family, friends, and neighbours, public and private charity (such as food provisioning), saving and dissaving to prepare for lean times (such as old age), abd security arrangements provided by institutions for collective action (such as guilds). To understand the history of institutions for collective action, it is imperative to understand the risks households faced, the decision making process in households, and the solutions available to them.

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Research Theme: Formation of institutions for collective action

Institutionalized forms of collective action have been put forward as a key feature of Europe’s precocious development. This project examines that connection between institutions and economic development in detail. It also harks back to the origins of such institutions, teasing out the impact of changing family patterns that emerged in Western Europe in the Late Middle Ages, which are often described as ‘the European Marriage Pattern’. Together with such factors as the absence of a strong state, and a helpful legal framework, the weakening of family relations may have created opportunities for other, non-kin social organisations to emerge, explaining the strength of institutions for collective action in this part of the world. Within this research theme, we focus on the origins and incentives for the formation of institutions for collective action.

Description of features research theme will be added in due time.



Research Theme: Regulations of institutions for collective action

Our present-day society is highly regulated and institutionalized: formal agreements are made at various levels within society to make things run smoothly, from driving a car, to disposing waste, to taking part in local and national elections, whereby breaching a rule usually carries a sanction. However, if rules are simply added without attention to the internal coherence of the regulations, contradictory situations may emerge within the regulations and rules may become ineffective: they may no longer be understood by the stakeholders, or simply be ignored ('freeriding'), with sanctions no longer being applied. In order to avoid inertia of the institution, adequate action to reduce complexity and complementarity are needed. This project aims to understand how efficient and effective regulation can be developed, executed by well-functioning institutions. We focus on commons, which are institutions for collective action that existed in the European countryside for centuries, and were set up to regulate the collective use of natural resources (grassland, woodland, water) for large parts of the rural population.

Description of features research theme will be added in due time.



Research Theme: Relation between Marriage Patterns and the emergence of institutions for collective action

The emergence and growth of corporations was possibly — as has been suggested quite often but has never been clearly demonstrated — connected to a weakening of family ties in Europe.  Societies organized around strict family lineage loyalty, tribal structures, or clans, may not have provided enough ‘space’ for the development of collective action. This suggests that changes in family structures set in motion a whole train of events that put Europe on its specific trajectory of collective action and economic development, whereby family solidarity was gradually replaced by other forms of solidarity. This also throws new light on the functions of emerging institutions of collective action that emerged: these institutions (such as guilds) were, to some extent, substitutes for family solidarity, in the form of arrangements for widows and orphans, and provided services for members by providing payment for funerals, etc. The decline in parental authority, the creation of nuclear households, an increasingly gender-balanced relationship between generations and within the household, altogether resulted in considerably weakened family ties, in comparison with the multi-generation households and patri-local and arranged marriage systems elsewhere. These changes had an impact on collective action institutions.

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Research Theme: Cooperating in care

The past century, spectacular advances in medicine have caused expenses of care to grow sky high: nowadays few people would be able to afford treatment in hospital, nursing home, or elderly home. The main solution for this problem is to pool risk, which is nowadays mainly done by welfare states or by private insurance companies. However, in earlier times, this role was assumed by institutions for collective action, such as neighbourhood guilds (buurtgilden), craftsmen’s guilds, journeymen’s boxes (knechtsbossen) and mutual funds, which helped people to counter the risk of getting ill, becoming incapacitated due to injury, or due to old age. Also in developing economies, there is an increasing tendency to consider community-based health insurance schemes as an alternative to often absent or malfunctioning state and commercial welfare provisions.

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