Theory and Society 51 (1):91-116 (2022)

This paper argues that historical research on late medieval and early modern craft guilds fails to escape teleological and anachronistic views, including when they are addressed as commons or ‘institutions for collective action’. These present-day conceptual lenses do not only create idealized views on guilds, but also of the contexts in which they operated, especially the state and the market. This is especially the case with neo-institutional views on the commons, which fall back on a transhistorical rational actor, who can choose between three options for the allocation of resources and surpluses, namely the state, the market and the common. The paper shows that guilds were fundamentally entangled with both the state and the market and that their ethic implied a less utilitarian and instrumental attitude towards natural resources. The consequence of this is that the history of the guilds offers different lessons to present-day commoners than those implied by present-day research. With an eye at launching a reflection on that, I argue in favour of a cosmopolitical perspective, which invites to take fundamentally different worldviews seriously. This includes questioning our own conceptual and analytical abstractions like the state, the market and the individual, up to and including the very distinction between nature and society or nature and politics, which are at the very basis of modern science itself.
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DOI 10.1007/s11186-021-09444-2
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Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to the Actor-Network Theory.Bruno Latour - 2005 - Oxford, England and New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.
We Have Never Been Modern.Bruno Latour - 1993 - Harvard University Press.

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