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Humanities and Social Sciences Colloquium - Niels Grüne (History)


An Anachronism Reassessed: Making Sense of 'Corruption' in Early Modern Politics

Dr. Niels Grüne
Universität Innsbruck
Junior Fellow

An Anachronism Reassessed: Making Sense of ‘Corruption’ in Early Modern Politics
When Feb 22, 2016
from 12:15 PM to 01:45 PM
Where FRIAS, Albertstr. 19, Seminar Room
Contact Name
Contact Phone +49 (0)761 203-97362
Attendees universitätsöffentlich / open to university members
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In research on early modern Europe, the concept of ‘corruption’ has developed into an analytical category only in recent years. Historians are beginning to regard corruption as office-centred perceptions of deviance in the times examined rather than projecting back current bureaucratic ideals. As a corollary, the impact of patronage studies, which portray the Ancien Régime as a world of legitimate favouritism, has lessened. It is becoming increasingly doubtful whether the century from 1750 to 1850 really formed the all-important threshold period traditional scholarship has attributed to it.

This talk will first discuss methods for coping with historical semantics of corruption different from today’s language. Second, examples from England and Germany in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries will place debates on corruption in their varied institutional contexts. It is argued that corruption-related communication largely served to determine the role of functional elites within estate-based societies. Third, these observations are interpreted in the light of social science approaches such as competition of norms, formality and informality, and social capital. They encourage the view that corruption, instead of constituting a timeless pattern of behaviour, has to be explored primarily as a socially embedded medium of negotiating political order.