ZiF Workshop

Momentum of its own. Inherent Dynamism in Pre-Modern Societies

Date: 12 – 14 February 2020
Convenors: Franz-Josef Arlinghaus (Bielefeld, GER), Andreas Rüther (Bielefeld, GER)

The conference discussed a new approach on social changes in premodern societies worldwide. The core thesis is that the fundamental structures of premodern societies show elements which are themselves driving forces for a constant change of these societies. At the same time the kind of change is of a specifically premodern nature. This continuous restructuring, so the second assumption, leads in tendency to precisely these structures becoming clearer. In a way, premodern society comes into its own only by the end of the period under observation (ca. 700-1700), shortly before its comparably rapid and surprising restructuring into a functionally differentiated modern age. This suggestion puts a question mark behind narratives that want specific cultural 'features' of certain world regions to be responsible for their specific way to modernity.

Not all papers can be discussed here. Rudolf Stichweh linked the concept of premodern self-dynamics proposed by the organizers with his theory of self-structures of modern world society. By self-structures Stichweh meant the strengthening of structures through self-reference and self-observation. The difference is that the proposed self-dynamics are related to the hierarchical order of premodern societies, while self-structures are more linked to the functionally differentiated modern society. One of two themes of Ulla Kypta's paper was the institutionalization with their own dynamics by means of the foundation of the Exchequer in the 12th century. She clearly differentiated her findings from research positions that here assume intentional planning or a norm-setting authority. Frank Rexroth plead for an extension of the concept suggested. In his view, societal 'niches' like universities for instance, contributed decisively to changes in premodern times. In her evening lecture, Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger analyzed rituals of the imperial diet in the 17th and 18th centuries. Not self-propelled, but rather 'involutive' processes were at work here, because the diet did much to open to influences of the hierarchical structures of society as such.

Masaki Taguchi examined the group formation of the Japanese warrior nobility (14th-16th century) in the form of the so-called Ikki. Quasi-egalitarian structures based on ritualised oath-swearing lead to a great autonomy of these associations, which fostered processes of inherent dynamism within the warrior groups. Using the example of chain poetry (15th-17th century), Jörg Quenzer demonstrated inherent dynamism that developed and worked depending on the medium and the rules of the game associated with it. Chain poetry took place in a community that had a (loose) part in an estate, although it was linked to systems of patronage for a long time.

During the final discussion, the different views on the concept were summarized. While a number of empirical evidences point to a specific form of premodern inherent dynamism, to draw a line between inherently and externally (i.e. intentions by actors) driven changes remains a problem. It seems that this problem has to be solved according to each specific case that is analyzed.

Franz-Josef Arlinghaus, Andreas Rüther

Conference Programme

Stefan Brakensiek (Essen, GER), Wolfgang Braungart (Bielefeld, GER), Nicolaas Buitendag (Bielefeld, GER), Julia Burkhardt (Heidelberg, GER), Holger Dainat (Bielefeld, GER), Angelika Epple (Bielefeld, GER), Elena Esposito (Berlin, GER), Antje Flüchter (Bielefeld, GER), Christine Gerwin (Bielefeld, GER), Marc Grünewald (Bielefeld, GER), Philip Knäble (Göttingen, GER), Ulla Kypta (Hamburg, GER), Johannes Pahlitzsch (Mainz, GER), Jörg Quenzer (Hamburg, GER), Frank Rexroth (Göttingen, GER), Daniel Schley (Bonn, GER), Silke Schwandt (Bielefeld, GER), Willibald Steinmetz (Bielefeld, GER), Rudolf Stichweh (Bonn, GER), Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (Berlin, GER), Masaki Taguchi (Sapporo, Hokkaido, JPN), Michael Zozmann (Bielefeld, GER)

Please direct questions concerning the organisation of the workshop to Trixi Valentin at the Conference Office. Questions regarding scientific content and contributions should be directed to the organizers.

Tel: +49 521 106-2769
Fax: +49 521 106-152769
E-Mail: trixi.valentin@uni-bielefeld.de