Between corporatism and capitalism? Urban industry and labour in eighteenth-century Flanders

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Abstract

This article uses returns by nineteen Flemish cities to an industrial survey undertaken
by the central authorities in the Austrian Netherlands in 1738, to explore the state
of urban industries in the County of Flanders on the eve of an economic revival
that would lead into the first industrial revolution on the European continent. By
focussing on three empirical questions – the extent and nature of industrial activity,
the importance of craft guild organization, and indications of capitalist labour
relations – the study aims to contribute to wider debates on the relationship between
guilds and economic change in the run-up to industrialization. While the sundry
nature of the data complicates their quantitative analysis, they provide valuable
insight into the underlying diversity of both social realities and conceptions of
‘industry’ and ‘work’ in this period of transformation. The resulting image confirms a
continued dominance of textile production in Flemish cities, in which mixed fabrics
have replaced traditional woollens, while showing the tentative emergence of new
consumption-culture oriented sectors (such as earthenware, tobacco, soap) and
signalling the presence of varied organizational forms (workshops, manufactures,
subcontracting, domestic workers, family labour). While the bulk of urban industrial
activity was still craft-organized, this did not preclude the presence of highly
proletarianized labour relations in both guild-based and non-guild-based activities.
Translated title of the contributionBetween corporatism and capitalism? Urban industry and labour in eighteenth-century Flanders
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)37-80
Number of pages44
JournalThe Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History
Volume20
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • Craft guilds
  • labor relations
  • Economic Policy
  • Urban history
  • Eighteenth Century

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