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In this contribution I want to consider elite discourses on late medieval Flemish urban rebels who tried to speak out politically. Following theoretical perspectives like John L. Austin's 'speech act theory', Pierre Bourdieu's insights in language and symbolic power and Norman Fairclough's 'critical discourse analysis', I consider discourse a form of social practice. (1) The social cannot be reduced to the discursive, as radical postmodernist historians would claim, but discourse is fundamental in constituting social relations. It has by now become a cliche that since the so-called linguistic turn in historical practice, the dividing lines between social history and cultural or intellectual history have been blurred. The combination of these points of view can provide new insights on medieval collective actions as the innovative approach of Peter Arnade, who studied the ritualized forms of mobilization in Flemish revolts, has shown. (2) The discursive aspects of these collective actions in late medieval Flanders have hitherto been neglected in social history. I will focus both on social and political structures in Flemish urban rebellion and also on the social struggle for legitimate speech. It is my intention to show that the ruling elites, and the chronicles in which their views were represented, used social classification as a form of social power, while marginalized rebels looked for political space to express their own utterances. Urban revolts in the Southern Netherlands between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries have been the topic of much scholarship. (3) Recent interdisciplinary historical studies of Flemish and Brabantine revolts have adapted the sociological model of Charles Tilly. (4) The general picture that arises from this work attributes a fundamental role in fomenting turmoil to the middle class of independent master craftsmen, who were clearly the driving force behind most social and political revolts in Flanders and Brabant. (5) They shaped the demands and ideological utterances characteristic of these uprisings. Craft guilds routinely struck various alliances with each other and with parts of the urban patriciate to confront princely power and their own urban authorities in an effort to realize pragmatic, crucial economic needs. Since the thirteenth century, the urban middle classes had developed a political self consciousness in the public arena which they and the crafts guilds put to use in managing civic structures. (6)Relatively lettered as they were, (7) they independently articulated social, economic and political aspirations. (8)All things considered these "petty commodity producers", who worked in both local or for international markets, are a comparatively well known social group. (9) They certainly cannot be considered (as Bertold Brecht has it) die im Dunkeln. Even if the large majority of medieval sources were written by the upper classes--originally only by the clerics, later by the nobility as well, and finally also by the urban patriciate--the corporate "middling sort" emerge as independent subjects in their own right., creators of their own urban profile.

September 22
Journal of Social History
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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