Constructing Brotherhood: Class, Gender, and Fraternalism

Constructing Brotherhood: Class, Gender, and Fraternalism

by Mary Ann Clawson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691601151
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #1024
Pages: 282
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

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Constructing Brotherhood

Class, Gender, and Fraternalism

By Mary Ann Clawson


Copyright © 1989 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-09447-2


The Fraternal Model

Nineteenth-century American fraternal orders made constant reference to the past, portraying themselves as the modern embodiments of age-old traditions. The re-creation of cultural traditions is a highly selective process, as much a work of invention as of preservation or replication. The lodges of nineteenth-century America were so remote, both temporally and organizationally, from the fraternalism of early modern Europe that any attempt to draw connections between the two warrants skepticism. Yet that is precisely what I intend to do. The connections that I draw are not causal, certainly not genealogical in the sense that nineteenth-century fraternalists meant when, for example, they traced the origins of Freemasonry back to the building of King Solomon's Temple. It is not necessary to draw precise organizational links in order to identify continuities of theme and style and to recognize that fraternalism, as a distinctive form of association, was a widely available resource for organizing and understanding the social world, a central part of the repertoire of popular action in Europe and America for some five hundred years.

The power of the fraternal form is most clearly visible in the popular culture of early modern Europe, where it pervaded almost all facets of daily life. In this chapter I use a synthetic overview of early modern fraternalism to accomplish two ends: first, to convey the appeal of fraternalism through an analysis of its many uses within a variety of social contexts, and second, to identify and explore the common features of fraternal association so as to construct an ideal-typical definition of fraternalism as a social form.

The key to understanding early modern fraternalism and the appeal of fraternalism more generally, lies in the recognition of kinship as a wide-reaching and socially-constructed mode of social organization. Only when we see the fundamental role played by familial relationships can we understand both the appeal and the utility of fraternal association as a means of extending the organizing power of kinship. And only then can we perceive that the assumptions about mutual obligation and masculine authority underlying the patriarchal family system of early modern Europe, structure the character of fraternalism as well.

The importance of kinship is most apparent in pre-state societies, where it is the central social relation that organizes "economic, political, and ceremonial, as well as sexual activity. One's duties, responsibilities, and privileges vis-à-vis others are defined in terms of mutual kinship or lack thereof. The exchange of goods and services, production and distribution, hostility and solidarity, ritual and ceremony, all take place within the organizational structure of kinship." Friendship, mutuality, and the possibility of stable social relations are in this view nearly synonymous with kinship, a sentiment that was almost as frequently expressed in medieval Europe, where the common term for kinfolk was simply "friend," as it was in the pre-state societies described by anthropologists.

In early modern Europe, kinship occupied a less central place in social organization as the growth of state-organized societies involved a largely successful attempt to shape kin relations and transfer resources from kin to class-based control. Nonetheless, the passage quoted above comes much closer to indicating the attitude to kinship, the attachment to its traditional forms, and the vigorous attempts to create new ones that endured among the common people of late medieval and early modern Europe, than do our necessarily attenuated modern conceptions of kin relations and their significance.

As the persistence of fraternalism and other Active kin relations demonstrates, the attachment to kinship as a mode of organizing and understanding social relations was not easily relinquished. The efforts of the state and the church to shape kinship to their own ends were often resisted. Attachment to kinship was expressed in the early modern period in three ways. The first was through strong involvement in large kin groups, which persisted in many rural areas until well into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The second was through the continued conceptualization of the economic relations of household production as patriarchal and familial — an understanding that was actually stressed in this period. The third was through the creation, in villages and towns, of a variety of institutions that relied on the concept of kinship for their form and appeal and that performed many of the tasks that had belonged to the extended family. Through fictive kin relations such as godparenthood and the various fraternal forms of association, kinship remained not just a powerful ideal, but a practical mode of organization rooted in the realities of social, economic, and religious life.

Godparenthood allows the best insight into the character of such relationships because even today we recognize it as a substitute kin relation entailing obligations on the part of the godparent to the child. But the modern concept of godparenthood sees only the relation between godparent and godchild; it ignores the ways in which the relation involves all the family members. What the anthropologist Esther Goody calls "pro-parenthood" is also an "effective way of forging links between adults. ... Where the sharing of parental roles is institutionalized, as in the giving of foster children and ritual sponsorship, such links are systematically created. To understand these as simply ways of coping with crisis situations or of arranging to cope with them should they occur, is to fail to recognize the way in which many societies make use of the bonds between parent and child." In late medieval and early modern society, baptism and the resulting godparental relationship was just such a form of ritual sponsorship, which functioned to intensify existing kin relations and to create new ones. Its ritual constructed a "formal state of friendship" that "somewhat resembles that of blood brotherhood or of fraternity in general."

Just as baptism signified that one entered the church as a member of a kin group, so fraternal institutions like the confraternity, the guild, the société joyeuse, and the many youth societies indicate that people also structured their religious practice, their work, and their celebrations around relationships conceptualized as familial. Fraternal association provided the ritualized means by which their members could define one another as brothers; biologically unrelated individuals thus used kinship to construct the solidarity necessary to accomplish a variety of tasks. Despite the contraction of the extended family, the larger ideal of kinship remained "the idiom of social interaction" and "the model of all effective social relations."

Once this is understood, we can see how the assumptions that underlay kin relations extended into the activities structured by fraternal association and permeated the fabric of everyday life. The model of society as family envisions people not as isolated individuals, but as occupants of specific social roles defined by their inherent relationships to one another. It envisions society not as a collection of individuals, but as a corporate entity that has meaning prior to and greater than the life and interest of any single person. In accord with such a concept of social life, fraternal institutions stressed an ethos of mutual obligation and collective responsibility for the well-being of others. At the same time, fraternal association, like the family system that was its implicit model, assumed the legitimacy of hierarchy and the givenness of age and gender inequality. An understanding of early modern fraternalism is thus necessarily predicated upon an understanding of the patriarchal family system to which it was so closely linked.

Kinship within the Patriarchal Household

Patriarchy is a concept frequently used by contemporary feminists; in some cases it refers to any system of male dominance, in others it is defined more narrowly as any system in which male power is derived principally from the rule of men in their roles as husbands and fathers. But in early modern Europe, patriarchy does not simply refer to the rule of men over women. Historians use the very similar term "patriarchalism" to describe the basic authority relation that governed production in a society in which production took place primarily within the household. It was thus an authority that included not only the householder's biological family, but also the servants and apprentices who lived as members of the family.

Patriarchalism found its definition in the relationship between the father/head of household and the children, servants, and apprentices who were both his dependents and his workers. The proper relationship between master and servant was believed to be that of a father and child. Servants owed their master respect and filial obedience as well as labor, while he in return owed them religious education, moral governance, and education in a trade, as well as their keep. As a popular book on household government in Stuart England stated: "The householder is called Pater Familias, that is, a father of a familie, because he should have a fatherly care over his servants, as if they were his children. [All] godly servants ... may in a few words learne what dutie they owe their masters, mistresses, and dames: namely to love them, and to be affectionated towards them, as a dutifull child is towards his father."

However moralistic or ideological it might be, this interpretation of the patriarchal relation was rooted in social conditions that rendered it plausible. The small scale of production, combined with the practice of living in, meant that the head of the household "was in direct personal contact with those who worked side by side with him under his orders. He knew them and could hardly help feeling some responsibility both for their physical and for their spiritual welfare." The shared experiences of daily life worked to define the relationship as a familial one.

Equally important was a concept of the family that saw biological members as productive workers on whose labor the family depended. Daughters and sons of the family routinely worked alongside servants or were themselves sent out to other households to work. Servants were typically young unmarried people, often children. The categories of child and worker were overlapping rather than distinct, because families viewed their biological children as workers, as well as their workers as family members.

Thus, the family in a system of household production was not congruent with the nuclear unit of mother, father, and children. The obligations, expectations, and authority relations that bound household members, including servants and apprentices, were not determined by either biological or contractual considerations. Instead, the relations of masters and servants in the patriarchal household of early modern Europe were placed within the rubric of kin relations.

The special situation of young people within this patriarchal household has been seen as one major source of early modern fraternalism. In a society dominated by household production, which did not yet identify wage laborers as a permanent category (or was only beginning to), adulthood, proprietorship, and the right to marry were inextricably linked. On the one hand, a man could not hope to survive, as farmer or craftsman, on the basis of his own labor power; he needed a family or a household of dependents to work for him. On the other hand, the ability to have a family depended on proprietorship, possession of some means of production, given the absence of wage labor as an alternative source of income. So despite the fact that servants and apprentices left their parents, earned their keep, and contributed to the productive capacity of the household, they were in no sense independent or adult. Subordinate to the household head, unable to marry, unable to live or work on their own, "they were constantly reminded of their semidependence by their inferior economic, social, and legal status in a society in which full rights were reserved mainly to the heads of families and other 'masters' of the craft and corporate hierarchies."

The duration of this semidependent state must be stressed, as it often lasted into the late twenties. In France, for example, journeymen, not just apprentices, were legally minors until just prior to the Revolution. And while its ultimate tendency would be to replace semidependency with wage labor, early capitalist development often had the reverse effect of prolonging youthful dependency and exacerbating its contradictions. As craft production was subtly altered by the demands of the market, the progression from journeyman to master ceased to be automatic; accession to mastership was increasingly reserved for the sons of masters or for those who could afford to pay the requisite fees. In rural areas, population pressures and attempts by large landowners to rationalize agriculture combined to deny many young men the chance to own land and to delay the possibility for many more.

Thus, young people typically faced a long period of dependency and subordination, even when their age and skills qualified them for adulthood. A potential for conflict was built into the patriarchal household. How did masters cope with restive young people and how did they in turn endure the long period of subordination?

They may, of course, have shared the values of patriarchalism that so permeated the entire society. The patriarchal relationship was not confined to the household; rather, it was used in the early modern period as an overarching metaphor that explained and justified other forms of authority, including that of the king over his people. The fact that patriarchalism was tied into the culture's larger system of authority, and not just limited to specific relationships within the household, must have greatly increased its power. This was especially true when linked to the expectation that one would oneself some day succeed to some form of patriarchal authority.

But the existence of associations of young people separate from the family suggests that whatever value consensus did exist was not sufficient, or at least that it had to be mediated through semi-autonomous forms of interaction, rather than directly through the family. Separate traditions of youth, "horizontal bondings of young single persons," occurred throughout society, from the associations of young craftsmen to the social groupings of rural youth. These fraternal institutions have been viewed as an integral part of the system of patriarchal social control, functioning to sustain youth during the long period of apprenticeship, formal or otherwise. But while this was surely the case, the study of fraternal youth institutions reveals that they also provided their participants with institutionalized ways to intervene in the patriarchal system in defense of their own interests. The fraternal forms of early modern youth must be seen as social relationships that both articulated patriarchal assumptions and values and asserted the interests of the semi-autonomous young against particular manifestations of patriarchal power.

Associations of journeymen, known as compagnonnages in France and Gesellenverbande in Germany, arose from the traditional practice of journeymen going out on the road after finishing their formal apprenticeship, but before themselves becoming masters. Usually understood as a way for craftsmen to gain additional experience in their trade, it was also a method of lengthening the period of apprenticeship at a time when the progression from journeyman to master was becoming problematic. The journeymen's associations helped to make this growing period of travel meaningful by upholding "the ideal of continence and the delay of marriage, relying on an elaborate imagery and ritual of 'brotherhood' to solidify the social and moral bonds within their group." This was done through a constant invocation of the imagery and authority of the family, which makes the connections between patriarchalism and fraternalism especially clear.

The three compagnonnages were titled the Children of Father Soubise, the Children of Master Jacques, and the Children of Solomon. Their familial character was made immediately explicit in their elaborate initiation ritual, a "baptism" in which the initiate became a member of a symbolic family. During this ceremony he renounced his original family name, received a nickname known only to his brother journeymen, and was "baptized" with wine by a "priest" in the presence of a "godfather" and "godmother," all of whom were fellow journeymen. These compagnons clearly viewed baptism in the tradition of medieval popular religion, as an event celebrating and affirming the individual's entrance into a kinship group. The direct appropriation of the baptismal rite as the initiation rite for the group shows the extent to which these journeymen's associations were conceived of as substitute kin groups.


Excerpted from Constructing Brotherhood by Mary Ann Clawson. Copyright © 1989 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • FrontMatter, pg. i
  • CONTENTS, pg. v
  • INTRODUCTION. Fraternalism as a Social Form, pg. 3
  • 1. The Fraternal Model, pg. 21
  • 2. The Craftsman as Hero, pg. 53
  • 3. Was the Lodge a Working-Class Institution?, pg. 87
  • 4. Fraternal Orders in Nineteenth-Century America, pg. 111
  • 5. Social Fraternalism and the Artisanal Ideal, pg. 145
  • 6. The Rise of the Women's Auxiliary, pg. 178
  • 7. The Business of Brotherhood, pg. 211
  • CONCLUSION, pg. 243
  • INDEX, pg. 265

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