Projects - ERC Starting grant-project

"United We Stand". The dynamics and consequences of institutions for collective action in pre-industrial Europe


Europe’s economic development in the centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution, continues to fascinate scholars. In recent debates, institutionalised 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.

Interactions between economic growth, marriage patterns and collective action institutions will be examined on several levels. A European wide-analysis, using specific indicators for institutional development and demographic patterns, should help clarify our understanding of their temporal and geographical co-evolution. Regulations for several types of collective action institutions will be analysed for Western Europe (the Low Countries and England) and Southern Europe (Italy and Spain) to study the impact of household constitution and marriage patterns on institutional arrangements. A third level of the project, to be subdivided in an urban and a rural study, will look into the application of such regulations in everyday practices, through the analysis of several case-studies of guilds, commons and beguinages in the Low Countries. Finally, a small sub-project is added to promote the dissemination and exchange of the project’s data among the wider academic community. Several events will, moreover, be organised to stimulate debates about the topics raised by the project. In this way, the project aims to help understand Europe’s specific development trajectory in the centuries preceding Europe’s dominant role in the world economy (and world politics) during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The project's emphasis on micro-level behaviour of households and their willingness to cooperate in collective action institutions, and these institutions' impact on economic development, is expected to cast a new light on the determinants of economic growth. Although the data are historically and geographically specific, the long-term perspective is bound to produce results that will be applicable to a much wider range of cases, including contemporary developing countries.



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