Social Mobility in pre-industrial societies: tendencies, causes and effects (13th-18th centuries)
Over the last few years, preindustrial social mobility has been the object of growing interest among economic and social historians. In part this is due to the relevance of the topic for society today in which, across much of the West, social elevators have slowed down or have stopped entirely, so reflecting on social mobility has become essential. And in part, this development arises naturally from the abundant recent research on economic inequality (a topic to which the 2019 Datini Study Week was dedicated), which has shown, for example, how a situation of high and growing inequality coupled with easy upwards mobility is radically different from one of high and growing inequality, but no or little social mobility.
Research on social mobility has been following its own track, particularly in terms of methodology. While some scholars have tried to devise quantitative methods that make use of readily-available information to provide some hint at general tendencies in the very long run, others have favoured a more traditional approach, collecting new archival data for the preindustrial period and adapting to historical sources the established analytical tools developed by sociologists for the study of modern societies (social mobility matrixes, etc.). The presence of very different approaches to the study of social mobility, approaches that currently coexist but rarely talk to each other, confirms the usefulness of proceeding to constructive debates about the sources and the methods that can be used to study this topic. We also need to compare the evidence obtained by means of different methods, without forgetting the important contribution of more qualitative research, which is potentially able to make fuller use of the historical sources and to contribute significantly to a more complete picture.
Due to this variety of approaches, the Datini Study Week will embrace a broad (but not generic) definition of social mobility to include not only the change from a well-defined social-economic condition to another equally well-defined (and measurable) one, but also the process through which individuals, families and social groups re-define their position regarding hierarchies of wealth, access to the political system, and knowledge. The prestige coming from these and other significant features of the societies under scrutiny also merits attention.
Papers proposed for consideration at the Datini Study Week should touch upon one or more of the following topics: