11. Behavioral Regulation in the City: Families, Religious Associations, and the Role of Poor Relief
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chapter 11 Behavioral Regulation in the City: Families, Religious Associations, and the Role of Poor Relief Katherine A. Lynch n this essay, I explore the history of social control in western Europe as it related to the urban household and family. I argue that households and families of the lower and middling ranks of urban society were weakened by the impact of high urban mortality and levels of migration, making the formation of bonds of mutual assistance and control beyond the household particularly vital to the survival of individuals and their families. Beginning in the Medieval period, the search for sources of community and control outside the family often took place within voluntary associations that included men and women from diverse backgrounds . From another direction, I suggest that during the sixteenth century, religious and civic authorities became more active in regulating behavior from within the household itself as part of the confessionalization process. In both cases, evidence suggests that members of religiously based or civic communities accepted or even sought out a certain level of behavioral regulation. This regulation was legitimated in part by the fact that community membership often conferred entitlements to assistance in time of need. The existence of these entitlements, with their attendant requirements of behavioral conformity, led to a higher level of social integration than would have been possible without them. I address several lines of historical inquiry. The first concerns historical assessments of the treatment of the poor in the early modern period. Social historians in the last twenty years or so, many of them influenced by the work of Michel Foucault or repelled by an earlier, self-congratulatory historiography on charitable institutions, have often judged the effectiveness of poor relief policy by its treatment of the poorest of the poor, those who were increasingly subject to the harshest state and city government repression from the sixteenth century onward—the “sturdy beggars” or homeless vagrants who sometimes terrorized the countryside of Europe in years of high prices, war, or general social disruption . A focus on government policy toward these groups must necessarily yield 200 I Spierenburg_Vol_1_Ch_11_2nd.qxd 6/22/2004 2:47 PM Page 200 the grimmest of assessments of the intentions and effectiveness of poor relief, since policy was designed as much to repress as to assist these elements of the poor.1 However, studies of what the Dutch called the “house poor” or residential poor, who have been known across the centuries as the “respectable” or “deserving ” poor, suggest that these sorts of poor people have very often enjoyed fairly dependable entitlements to small amounts of assistance from civic collectivities as well as church sources. In this essay I focus upon the “house poor,” members of the urban lower classes who were also among those of modest means most likely to participate in groups that provided for mutual assistance while seeking to regulate the behavior of their members. From a second historiographical direction, I address the relationship between poor relief and the confessionalization process of the sixteenth century. Historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have used the notion of “confessionalization” to understand the means that leaders of the three major religious confessions, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Roman Catholic, used to spread their differing versions of Christianity.2 Confessionalization involved the establishment of theologically well-defined churches with doctrines that church leaders attempted to teach more systematically to the laity. Clergy became more active in teaching and upholding tenets of new or renovated faiths. The confessionalization process was particularly active in urban centers. Towns and cities were critical to the process of Europe’s confessional development, serving in many instances as incubators, and later, showcases for newly emerging visions of community that confessionalization brought about. Moreover, urban dwellers were generally the first to experience intensified forms of social regulation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including efforts by secular as well as religious authorities to exert greater control over domestic and public life. For some scholars, social regulation was in fact the key result of confessionalization, serving as a harbinger of more aggressive forms of social discipline that early modern territorial rulers gradually imposed upon their subjects in the process of modern state building.3 Although early modern heads of state were doubtless innovators when it came to building institutions for regulating the lives of their subjects more closely, the spirit that informed the idea of regulating the urban order was hardly new. Third, this study seeks to illuminate interrelationships among household life, poor...


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