14. Social Control from Below: Popular Arbitration of Disputes in Old Regime Spain
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chapter 14 Social Control from Below: Popular Arbitration of Disputes in Old Regime Spain Tomás A. Mantecón ocial control is a multifaceted concept. As an apparently neutral term, it covers all social processes that induce conformity, from infant socialization down to public execution. Roughly speaking, social control requires that a deviant form of behavior is transformed into tolerable conduct. In its turn, deviant behavior comprises individual or collective immorality, weakness, sickness, and deficient or perverse attitudes, all of which may or may not be categorized as illegal behavior or crime.The reaction to deviant behavior can be punishment, reform, defense, segregation, rehabilitation, prevention, treatment, or even assault. Social control is facilitated (or sometimes inhibited) not only by norms, the law, and social tolerance but also by emotions such as revenge, compassion, and benevolence— passions that were felt equally by specialized controllers such as judges, policemen, teachers, social workers, criminologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, aldermen , the president of a university or country, the national government, as by nonspecialists such as the father of a household, neighbors, and kin. The objects of social control were deviant people, that is, people who were considered social monsters, outsiders, dangerous criminals, rebels, lunatics, beggars, or other individuals disobedient to law, custom, authority, local norms, or family values. Anyone can become a social deviant. The discourse of social control is extremely broad ranging, since it includes labor discipline, schooling, teacher’s authority, prisons and imprisonment, police tasks, paternal correction of children, and patriarchal authority in general. In 1977, Michel Foucault explained that power is constituted neither by individual nor by collective purposes or interests.1 Although power has links with economics, politics, and culture, it is also self-generating, because political practices are the result of coordinating and giving sense and direction to individuals , social groups, and institutional forces. Social control was part of these power relationships with two basic directions: from above (from the political arena and 267 S Spierenburg_Vol_1_Ch_14_2nd.qxd 6/22/2004 2:49 PM Page 267 elite culture) and from below (from social forces and popular culture). I am concentrating here on the settlement of everyday disputes in early modern Spain by informal means or sometimes by semiformal ones, making use of institutions. In fact, as I will explain, more than half of the lawsuits in all courts together ended with an agreement out of court.This occurred most frequently in the Crown tribunals, where about three-fourths of the cases in the lowest courts ended with an extrajudicial settlement. The Church courts, however, left less than a fourth of their cases without a sentence. This difference between Crown and Church courts is due to the types of crime handled by each of them. Church courts might deal with homicide if the victim was a priest or a nun, but a large part of their business concerned sexual affairs. In those cases a sentence usually was the end of the story, because that was the result the parties were after. The judge would decide whether a promise of marriage had been broken and the guilty party had to pay compensation; he granted or denied the request for a couple’s separation; he decided whether a case concerned adultery, simple fornication, rape, or homosexuality . In the eyes of the Church, all such affairs had to be solved clearly, and this could be done only by means of a judicial sentence.2 Early modern Spaniards were increasingly keen on going to court to negotiate their disputes. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Castilians increasingly took their everyday disputes to the local judge, instead of bringing them before a higher court as they had usually done before. This process of devolution of jurisdiction from the highest to the lowest courts also had further effects.3 The highest courts used to resolve every case with a sentence, whereas local judges usually ended a case without a sentence. The rule was discussion in court and resolution out of court. The judge and the judicial procedure were merely the vehicle that every party used to negotiate an acceptable solution. In that sense, there was also a devolution of jurisdiction from judicial administration to social forces, both groups and individuals. That is the reason why I focus this article on popular social control and arbitration of disputes. In early modern times, every corporate structure of Spanish society and every sphere of sociability was an arena of social control. From the basic community— the household—to the commonwealth, there existed...


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