Debates on institutions for collective action in general

What was the role of legal changes in the formation of institutions for collective action in Western Europe?


It has been claimed that the freedom to organise and the right to assembly was established with greater ease in post-Roman Europe, because of its fragmented sovereignty and the weakness of states. This created a competition in which various social classes and groups, such as the nobility, the church, and autonomous towns, vied with each other for control of what ‘state’ there was. In the process they established state-like institutions, such as independent communes (Van Zanden, 2009). Legal changes also allowed corporations to act as single bodies on behalf of their members, so that, whatever their purpose, they had sufficient legal standing to function properly (Posner, 2000). Medieval European canon law attributed rights of assembly to collectives, as well as ownership and internal and external representation, by means of the principle of universitas, which provided a group with a legal personality distinct from that of its individual members (Tierney, 1982; Huff, 2003).

The degree to which Western Europe, in the wake of the 'legal revolution' of the eleventh-twelfth century (Berman, 1983), developed and used the concept of 'a corporate body' (universitas), clearly differed from other parts of Eurasia, where similar concepts and corporatist forms of collective action did not emerge, or the concepts, like the Waqf in the Islamic Middle East, did not have the same kind of flexibility and popularity (Kuran, 2001).



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