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Manipulating social capital in eighteenth-century Prussia : the use and conceptualization of honor in the memoirs of Johann Dietz and Hans Ludwig Nehrlich King, Andrew M.

Abstract

This paper examines the ways in which honor was used by artisans in eighteenth-century Prussia. Using the cases of three early modern Germans from artisan backgrounds; the Halloran barber Johann Dietz, his wife Elisabeth, and the cooper Hans Ludwig Nehrlich from the village of Sülzenbrücken, the paper investigates how artisans conceived of and used the concept of honor. As members of the urban artisanal milieu, Dietz, Elisabeth and Nehrlich were part of a culture in which honor and reputation were of utmost importance, and all three made use of the language of honor to explain and justify their actions when they were drawn into conflicts with other artisans or their social superiors. In their efforts to defend themselves from charges of dishonorable conduct, the three artisans demonstrate the surprising malleability of honor as an ordering concept in the early modern city. The dictates of the honorable guild-based community regulated the behavior of artisans and could potentially punish transgressive individuals with complete social, economic and political exclusion. However, the extent to which issues of honor permeated almost every facet of early modern artisan life and transcended the theoretically closed boundaries of the urban community allowed individuals such as Dietz, Elisabeth and Nehrlich, all of whom were accused of dishonorable conduct, to draw on the overlapping meanings and jurisdictions regulating honor to defend their actions. The discourse of honor in the early modern German city simultaneously served as a form of group social capital, which allowed the artisan community both to negotiate with urban authorities and to regulate the conduct of their individual members, and as a form of individual social capital which allowed certain artisans to defend or actively improve their social status, at times in the face of direct opposition from artisan peers or urban authorities.

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