David Lederer

title.none: Jaritz, ed., Norm Und Praxis im Alltag Des Mittelalters und der Frühen Nüzeit (Lederer)

identifier.other: baj9928.9905.017 99.05.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Lederer, National University of Maynooth, Ireland,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Jaritz, Gerhard, ed. Norm und Praxis im Alltag des Mittelalters und der Frühen Nüzeit. Forschungen des Insttuts für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Frühen Nüzeit, Diskussionen und Materialien, Vol 2. Wien, Austria: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1998. Pp. 126. ISBN: 3-700-12692-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.05.17

Jaritz, Gerhard, ed. Norm und Praxis im Alltag des Mittelalters und der Frühen Nüzeit. Forschungen des Insttuts für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Frühen Nüzeit, Diskussionen und Materialien, Vol 2. Wien, Austria: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1998. Pp. 126. ISBN: 3-700-12692-1.

Reviewed by:

David Lederer
National University of Maynooth, Ireland

Th e breathtaking autumn in the Danubian valley west of Vienna announces the arrival of Heurige, when the cellars of the Vienna Wood and the Wachau celebrate their nouveau wines with festivals and minstrels. The Institute for the Study of Material Culture of the Middle Ages and Early Modern Era of the Austrian Academy of Sciences chose to convene its annual round-table in picturesque Krems an der Donau on 7 October 1996 to discuss the issues of "norms and practice" in the context of material culture. The atmosphere at this international round-table, with fortunate guests from France, Germany and Denmark, could hardly have been more congenial -- as this resultant brief volume of eight articles demonstrates.

The order of the pieces reflects the flow of the meeting. In his lucid prefacing remarks ("Norm and Practice in the Everyday and Material Culture of the Late Middle Ages") the editor and host, Gerhard Jaritz, introduces us to some of the theoretical problems. He admits a heavy reliance on normative sources in prior studies of material culture and betrays scepticism as to their accurate reflection of historical "reality" -- a problematic concept in itself. Hence his subtitle "Contradiction and Compliance." Jaritz anecdotally raises the chicken/egg problem of whether norms shape practice or vice-versa, but then wisely sets a different agenda by recognising their integral weave within historical contexts, hinting at deeper issues -- the selective reception of norms, practices which change existing norms or create new ones and the variance from intent behind norms to their implimentation. Then he turns to the second problem of the round-table: the role of norms in regulating material culture. He provides European-wide examples illustrating how norms were instrumentalized in status disputes, in conflicts over production and to signify the possession of goods. In conclusion, he raises the third important issue addressed in this volume, the relationship of norms to recent theories of social disciplining.

In a perfunctory appendix to the Introduction, Gernot Kocher suggests a traditional outline of points relevant to the discussion at hand, to whit: (1.) In past cultures, material objects were far more symbolically charged with normative meaning than in modern society, (2.) material objects served to reify normative values, for example (3.) clothing indicated social status, devices granted persons authority, boundaries were marked publically by objects, personal rights or privileges were represented by possession of some object, with the result that (4.1) material objects served to make legal relationships visible and transferable, (4.2) they served to publicize norms and (4.3) to exemplify public compliance with them.

Claude Gauvard embarks on the first narrative analysis in his "Judgement between Norm and Practice" using the case of Northern France in the late Middle Ages. He focusses on theories of justice, penal codes and punishment from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries to discover whether judiciary practice conformed to legal texts. In terms of sources, his approach is one of the most balanced, relying on published law codes and ordonnances, Mirrors of Princes, literature, commentaries of lawyers and archival case records. He verifies that capital punishment was rare relative to the number of sentences meeted out, indicating a divergence of public and private interest over certain offenses. Gauvard differentiates between judicial theory at the highest normative level, royal codes and ordonnances at the intermediary level and finally the juridical culture of judges, "hommes de la pratiques" in the trenches. Calls for the exemplary justice invoked by theorists were balanced by royal pardons and local exigencies, and here Gauvard acknowledges recent research on the lettres de re'mission for all social categories and even the most heinous crimes. Ultimately, he views the practice of late medieval justice as a give-and-take bricolage of theories and methods employed to maintain public concord, avoid vengeance and the blood feud and restore social bonds.

In "Norm-setting as a Practice?", Martin Dinges makes a novel suggestion concerning the analysis of norms within the framework of Oestreich's social-disciplining thesis. Those aquainted with Dinges' longtime antagonism toward the disciplining thesis may be surprised to learn that, although he still distances himself from Hsia and Schilling, Dinges now supports Oestreich (albeit facetiously): he depicts the disciplining activity of elites as limited to the simple production of norms, correcting one hackneyed axiom, whereby the repetition of disciplinary legislation is simply taken to verify its prior ineffectiveness. Instead, he assumes a functionalist position on the setting of norms as a form of self-confirming behavior on the part of rulers -- a social re-production. The argument is complex, well constructed and applies a linguistic turn to the analysis of law codes from the Duchy of Wuerttemberg. He thereby saves the Oestreich debate from the oversimplified quarrel over "success or failure" and ostensible discrepancies between ideal and real, raising the discussion to a question of intent versus inability on the part of the ruling elite to perceive changing social and economic conditions. While Dinges may not yet have buried the ghost of Oestreich, his argument achieves greater subtlety in this critique.

Katharina Simon-Moscheid offers another perspective on social disciplining in her presentation of "Clothing, Wage and Norm" as objects in the field of social relations between maids, servants and masters. The author locates the issue of objects and possessions within the broader framework of interpersonal relationships in a productive environment. Using both printed and archival sources, Simon-Moscheid infers how serving men and particularly women were the "targets" of masters who threatened to withhold wages, valuable possessions and, most serious of all, their prized items of apparel to enforce shop-floor discipline. Simultaneously, because of wide-spread literary stereotypes portraying them as lazy and thieving, the reputations of servants were constantly imperilled, forcing them to toe the line or fall victim to the unwarranted accusations of their employers. Simon-Moscheid is absolutely correct to point out that the position of female servants was particularly precarious, not only because of their vulnerability to "inappropriate" relationships, but also because they lacked the social support mechanisms available to male apprentices, who could often rely on cooperative institutions like guilds to defend them against unethical employers.

In its conceptual simplicity, Helmut Brauer's "Begging and Alms: Badge between Norm and Practice" is the jewel of this volume. The protagonist, a small cloth or tin badge distributed to the shamed-faced poor by beggars' judges, clearly demonstrates the meaninglessness of norms outside of an historical context. Brauer follows the story of the tiny badge from its semiotic heights as a normative emblem in civic affairs to the meaningless depths of poverty, suggesting its symbolic ambivalence as a tool of social disciplining -- like its wearers, "pulled down into the strudel of social collapse". The normative intent was to differentiate deserving wearers from undeserving non-wearers (who were "marked" by their lack of a badge) and not to act as "a symbol of shame, but rather more a testimony of an honest way of life." However, Brauer reveals, in practice, even the deserving poor might be driven off to the next town "along with Christian brotherly love" because they wore the badge. Realising this, recipients (as well as non-recipients) treated the badges with mixed emotions, employing or even counterfeiting them when they might be of benefit, hiding or discarding them when they might cost one the chance at a good job or a room to spend the night. Par excellence, the beggars' badge represented a material symbol of normative culture with questionable disciplinary value.

In an empirically based study of "Norm and Practice in 'Medical Culture'", Robert Juette demonstrates the outright lack of norms for blood-letting, a popular treatment for humoral imbalances until the nineteenth century. This study of phlebotomy points out how little we know about actual medical practices in early modern Europe in general, because traditional history has concentrated on attitudes among university-trained physicians. However, they made up only one part of the medical community and were least likely to actually perform a physical operation or treatment such as venesection, generally done by surgeons, bone-setters and barbers. Juette demonstrates bleeding was not only common, but often a festive occassion involving the letting of either small or comparatively large amounts of blood from one to five times a year. There was little in the way of normal procedure, as theorists, practitioners and even the patients sought to influence practice according to their own interpretations.

In the concluding article on "Norm and Practice in Early Cistercian Life," Brian P. McGuire emphasizes the dynamic role of tension between norm and practice as a catalyst for historical development in the early history of the order until the formalism and legalism of the thirteenth-century Church rendered it incapable of adapting and ultimately resulted in decline. In doing so, McGuire openly sides with Constance Berman against those who would blame the decline of the order on its inability to turn the General Chapter into a firm mechanism for developing uniformity. Instead, McGuire believes that it was precisely the ability of local houses to deal creatively with regional needs or react to conflicts within houses, e.g. lay brother revolts, that provided the Cistercians with the flexibility needed for growth and renewal. For him, the dynamic of tension was a source of vitality that was only diminished when exhortation was replaced by punishment and the "way of charity" yielded to the "way of power".

If the volume lacks a geographic center, the thematic center is strong enough to hold it together. Taken together, this collection offers a number of interesting perspectives on the problem of reconciling norms to practice, though the emphasis remains with norms and their production. None of the authors pounced upon Jaritz's obvious allusions to Chartier's concept of cultural consumption, a desideratum. While most integrate the role of material culture into their presentations, it is unclear how the question of social disciplining crept into the conference -- though so much the better. Finally, these short articles exhibit their fair share of mutual shoulder patting in the footnotes and, at times, in the texts themselves -- though this was surely a by-product of that congenial autumn atmosphere in lower Austria.