Patriarchy Project 2a: exclusion/limitation of school-age education

Note: This is another preliminary analysis of an aspect of my patriarchy project.

I’ve broken up my discussion of patriarchal structures in education and training into three parts: school-age education, training and apprenticeships, and advanced education (e.g. universities and academies). In reality, the three categories overlap, especially the first two. Even young children might primarily be being trained for a specific role or career rather than given an elementary general education. Progress between stages of education wasn’t strictly regulated by age, but attainment. And those women who were able to obtain an advanced education were likely to do so via the same institutions that they had used to obtain their more basic education (tutors or convents). But there are differences in patriarchal structures and logic between these forms of education, which I hope this division will illuminate.

Logo of Hitchin Girls’ School

Read More »

Patriarchy project 1f: differential patterns of unfreedom/slavery

Note: This is another preliminary analysis of an aspect of my patriarchy project.

I’ll also add that while I’ve researched a fair amount on early medieval slavery, I’m much less well-informed on early modern slavery, so if anything I say on that is completely wrong, please let me know.


Looking at gendered aspects of slavery is one of the most difficult aspects of patriarchal structures to discuss. Firstly, because slavery and unfreedom encompass so many different forms of subjection: in fact, early medievalists have tended to prefer the term “unfreedom” because the people they study often don’t look like the slaves of classical Rome or New World plantations. Secondly, there’s the question of whether “patriarchy” is really an adequate term to describe the complex interactions of gender, race, religion and legal status in producing the oppression and dominance of slavery.

But I’m not trying to write a general history of kyriarchal structures, so in keeping with my definitions I’m focusing here on three aspects of slavery where you can see sex-based discrimination against women: societies in western Europe and its colonies where there were more enslaved women than men, ones where unfree women were systematically treated worse than unfree men, and circumstances in which female slaveowners were treated less favourably than male slaveowners.

Read More »

Individualistic cavalrymen seeking renown

I’ve finally finished Dominic Barthélemy, La chevalerie (2012), which has been a very long read. It’s 600+ pages of detail; it also didn’t help that I started off reading the original edition and then switched to the revised version, which is even longer, and been rearranged, so I had to go back and find which passages had disappeared or been altered. This post is basically just me trying to sort out the major themes within the book and work out to what extent I agree with him about chivalry.

Read More »

Patriarchy project 1d: Unequal transfers of family wealth

Note: This is another preliminary analysis of an aspect of my patriarchy project.

The Dashwood sisters, Sense and Sensibility (1995)

One reason for the historical economic predominance of men is that they not only have more opportunities to gain wealth by employment but have often been able to gain a larger than equal share of the family property at moments when this is transferred. What I’m thinking of here are the institutions of dowries, divorce settlements and inheritance. Though my initial schema separated them out, I now think it makes more sense to consider them together, because they’re often linked together in complex ways. For example, the dowry could be considered as the “widow’s portion”, intended to support her after her husband’s death. In some legal systems which allowed divorce, a wife might also sometimes have her dowry returned to her on the divorce. In some Western European cultures, a girl’s dowry might also be considered as her premortem inheritance, so that she had no further rights to inherit from her parents.

Read More »

Virtue signalling, the Mafia and Christianity

In a previous post I used the term “virtue signalling” and when I showed a draft to my husband, he was unhappy with the phrase, which he thought was a meaningless right-wing slogan. Certainly, that’s how it now tends to be used, as part of the culture wars.

What I was trying to do, however, was use “signalling” in one of its academic senses, as a sociological  concept. A classic explanation is given by Diego Gambetta, Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate (Princeton University Press, 2009) p. x: “Signals are any observable features of an agent that are intentionally displayed for the purpose of altering the probability the receiver assigns to a certain state of affairs or “event””.

Gambetta goes on (p. xi) to explain the biggest problem with such signalling:

signals can be fraudulently manipulated. By lying, imitating, forging, or stealing certain signs, a signaller can mimic the state of affairs one associates with these signs. What is ultimately being mimicked is a certain unobservable property, k, that the mimic does not really possess. What is being lied about, imitated, copied or forged along the way are the signs associated with k, which leave the impression of possessing k.

Read More »

When the robots came to librarianship

There is continued talk about how robots and other forms of automation, such as artificial intelligence, may be going to take most of our jobs. Some more informed observers, however, are sceptical, pointing out the enduring limits of AI.  I want to add to this scepticism by talking about an employment sector where automation and IT have already drastically changed the content of jobs, but without eliminating the profession: librarianship.

I went to library school over thirty years ago (I studied at CLW in 1987-1988) , at a point when the cutting edge storage technology was the CD-ROM and to access remote databases, you used a dial-up modem, running at 300 bps (as opposed to modern broadband rates in the UK in the tens of megabytes per second). As for the internet, I was very proud of myself when I worked out how to use JANET (the Joint Academic Network) to search a library catalogue elsewhere in the UK, but it was far too complicated a procedure to think of doing regularly.

I started as a librarian, therefore, about ten years BG (before Google) and indeed even before the World Wide Web was invented. By the time I’d been a librarian for around fifteen years, the changes were drastic. In 2001, my job was managing the University of Hertfordshire’s electronic journals, a form of communication that was still only in the experimental stage when I was at library school. And several other traditional library roles and tasks had already pretty much vanished.

Read More »

A brief history of Anglo-American virtue politics

Why hypocrisy matters

A while ago I read an interesting article in the New Statesman by the novelist Jonathan Coe entitled The Brexit referendum tells the story of the radicalisation of Middle England. This argues for the importance of two incidents during Gordon Brown’s premiership on undermining voters’ trust in Parliament and MPs generally. One was the Parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009, the other was Gordon Brown’s reference in the General Election campaign of 2010 to a Labour voter called Gillian Duffy as a “bigot” after her making comments about immigration.

In both cases, Coe argues, the key reason these events resonated beyond their actual significance was because of the hypocrisy involved: of a “political class professing virtue in public while privately milking the system for all it was worth” and of Gordon Brown saying one thing to the woman’s face and another behind her back (his gaffe was caught by a live microphone he’s forgotten about). These became part of a narrative for “Middle England” about rottenness at the heart of England.

It’s tempting at this point just to see this as part of a wider attempt by powerful right-wing media interests to discredit the Labour Party or liberalism more generally (including more centrist Tories). But I don’t think it’s just because of that that Gordon Brown was more vulnerable to a gaffe than Boris Johnson is. I think it’s also the difference between a political party led by the virtuous and a political party for the virtuous and the contrasting dangers of hypocrisy for such parties.

Read More »

Understanding economic research 1: Braunstein, “Patriarchy versus Islam” (2014)

One of the new skills I’m going to need for my Patriarchy Project is understanding and critiquing research in economic history and economics, which often uses a very different methodology, far more quantitative and model-based than I’m used to. I want to do some blogging to see what I can get out of such papers at my current state of knowledge. I also want to see what I still need to work on understanding, because some critique is only possible once I understand the models and their limitations better. This post is therefore mainly for clarifying my own thoughts, though I’d welcome anybody pointing out any egregious misunderstandings on my part.

I’m going to start with an economics paper that looks very relevant to the project: Elissa Braunstein, “Patriarchy versus Islam: gender and religion in economic growth“, Feminist Economics 20 (2014):58-86. DOI: 10.1080/13545701.2014.934265.

Abstract: This contribution evaluates whether affiliation with Islam is a theoretically and statistically robust proxy for patriarchal preferences when studying the relationship between gender inequality and economic growth. A cross-country endogenous growth analysis shows that direct measures of patriarchal institutions dominate a variety of religious affiliation variables and model specifications in explaining country growth rates, and that using religious affiliation, particularly Islam, as a control for culture produces misleading conclusions. This result is robust to the inclusion of measures of gender inequality in education and income, indicating that establishing and maintaining patriarchal institutions (a process this study calls “patriarchal rent-seeking”) exact economic growth costs over and above those measured by standard gender inequality variables. One of the key contributions of this study is to draw on unique institutional data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Gender, Institutions and Development (GID) database to better understand the gendered dynamics of growth.

Read More »

The Carolingian preudomme?

I haven’t yet had a chance to read David Crouch’s new book  The Chivalric Turn: Conduct and Hegemony in Europe before 1300, but his The Birth of Nobility: Constructing Aristocracy in England and France: 900-1300 (2005) contains a long discussion of the preudomme, a figure whom Crouch believes exemplified noble male conduct before chivalry. Crouch argues that this model is already visible in texts such as the Chanson de Roland from  c.1100, and that some eleventh century texts, such as the lives of the knights turned saints Herluin of Bec, Count Bouchard I of Vendôme and Simon de Crépy show similar behaviour.

Crouch states (Birth of Nobility, pp. 40-41):

That is perhaps as far as we can go in antedating his [the preudomme‘s] appearance as an ideal social type in French lay culture, although historians of Carolingian culture might have an opinion on this.

Read More »

Scholarship in Dark Times

When I’d just started getting interested in early medieval history several decades ago, I bought a second-hand book I’d stumbled across:  J.H. Clapham and Eileen Power (eds), The Cambridge Economic History of Europe From the Decline of the Roman Empire. Volume 1, The Agrarian Life of the Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 1941).

Sir John Henry Clapham by Lafayette
NPG x41520, © National Portrait Gallery, London

I never got that far reading the volume (and there’s a later edition anyway). But I continue to keep and treasure the book for the preface by John Clapham alone, dated Christmas 1940. Here are some extracts:

There should have been two sets of initials at the end of this Preface, but the more important set is not there. My colleague and very dear friend Eileen Power had just finished some editorial work on the last chapter and the bibliographies when she was struck down in an instant of time, not by that which may strike anyone to-day but by utterly unexpected disease [She died of heart failure, aged 51]. With her this work loses the editor upon whom, as a medievalist, the main responsibility for the first three volumes rested.

Clapham goes on:

This volume has been assembled with difficulty. Work of this kind can be done only on an international basis and, for the time being, that basis has failed us.  When the volume and its two immediate successors were planned, in 1934, international co-operation was still possible. But it became harder each year. The author of Chapter 1 [Richard Koebner] when he accepted our offer was a Professor in Breslau. Transference to Jerusalem, with the accompanying need to master the art of lecturing in Hebrew, interfered with the completion of what seems to us a great piece of work. An Italian scholar accepted our offer to write the Italian section of Chapter VII but was unable to deliver the MS. He was replaced by a Danish student of Italian agrarian conditions; the Dane unexpectedly died. His successor is a Finn [Gunnar Mickwith] who, with great determination, finished the section before he had occasion to write from ‘somewhere in Finland’ in November 1939 that he hoped to get back to economic history but that ‘it was a small thing compared with the independence of his country’. We have not heard from him since [A review of the book from 1942 describes him as ‘slain in battle’].  Our Spanish contributor sadly threw up his task because he was a refugee in Santander and his notes were in Seville. There has been no later news of him either. We were fortunate in finding an American scholar [Robert S. Smith] who was willing at short notice to take his place. Of Professor [Jan] Rutkowski all that we know with certainty is that he cannot be at his University of Poznán; we believe that Professor [François-Louis] Ganshof, an officer of the reserve, is alive in Belgium; and that Professor Marc Bloch, after serving with the armies, is safe in America. [Rutkowski and Ganshof survived the war, Bloch was shot by the Gestapo].

Read More »