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FW: Book Review - Poverty: A History

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@ANATOMY.USYD.EDU.AU] Sent: Saturday, September 02, 2000 2:31 AM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: Book Review -
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2000
      FW: Book Review - Poverty: A History

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@...]
      Sent: Saturday, September 02, 2000 2:31 AM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: Book Review - Poverty: A History

      An HTML version of this book review can be found at
      along with more than five hundred other reviews.

       TITLE: Poverty - A History
       AUTHOR: Bronislaw Geremek
       - translated from the Polish by Agnieszka Kolakowska
       PUBLISHER: Blackwell 1994
       SUBJECTS: social history, medieval history
       OTHER: 273 pages, bibliography, index

      Despite the general title, _Poverty_ only really covers Western Europe
      (with a nod to central Europe and Poland) and, though it touches on the
      contemporary world and looks back at earlier antecedents, its focus is
      very much on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  It is there and then
      that Geremek places the origins of distinctively modern ideas about and
      approaches to poverty.  (Those who aren't interested in that period may
      find _Poverty_ heavy going: it is a solid work of historical scholarship.)

      Geremek begins with medieval poverty, looking first at Christian doctrine
      and ideology, at the difference between exaltation of the spiritual,
      voluntary poverty of ascetics and the degradation of the genuinely poor.
      He describes the practice of begging and the operation of charitable
      institutions (beggars "were an integral part of the social 'division of
      labour' and participated in organized forms of corporate professional
      life").  And he explores the sociology of medieval poverty,
      its demographics, geography, and economics.

      Attitudes to poverty changed with the broader "disintegration"
      of medieval society.  Starting with the Black Death, the period
      saw changes in the balance between prices and wages, food crises,
      and demographic and economic expansion: the sixteenth century was
      "a turning-point in long-term economic trends".  Increasing poverty
      in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was largely the result of
      "transformations in the agrarian system and the social structure of
      the countryside", with the progressive changes driven by movement
      towards a cash economy superimposed on the ordinary cycle of famine.
      And there are a growing number of studies of the role of poverty
      in the origins of capitalism, of variations between "advanced" and
      "backward" regions, and of its dimensions in particular cities.

      Geremek next presents case studies of reforms of charity from Paris,
      Venice, and Ypres in the 1520s and from Grenoble, Rouen, Lyons,
      Valladolid, and Norwich later in the century.  Though municipalities
      went their own way, there were common themes.

              Local reforms, regardless of the extent of their proven success
              or permanence, always involved the same measures: taking a census
              of paupers, expelling as many of them as possible from the city,
              distinguishing those qualifying for support by various identifying
              signs, centralizing the administration of hospitals and social
              aid and providing, mostly through taxes, the resources for their
              continued activity.

      Attempts at a more centralised approach included the imperial edict
      of 1531 and in England the edicts of Henry VIII and the Poor Law of
      1597 to 1601.  Geremek also looks at some of the sixteenth century
      writers who debated the theology and politics of charity: Luther,
      Erasmus, Viv├ęs, Frycz, de Soto, and Giginta.

      Geremek also connects the response to beggars with the origins of modern
      prisons: "Before prison became widespread as a method of punishing and
      re-educating offenders, it was used in modern Europe as an instrument
      in implementing social policy with regard to beggars".  The sixteenth
      century saw the origins of workhouses in England and moves in Rome to
      segregate and confine the poor, while the seventeenth brought the the
      General Hospital and "the great imprisonment" in France.  A brief chapter
      at the end of _Poverty_ looks at the contemporary world (by which Geremek
      means the last two hundred years), touching on theorists from Marx to
      Harrington, the improvement of welfare systems ("the just distribution
      of goods no longer belonged to the domain of charity; it was henceforth
      a socio-political issue"), and the poverty of nations.


      %T      Poverty - A History
      %A      Geremek, Bronislaw
      %M      Polish
      %F      Kolakowska, Agnieszka
      %I      Blackwell
      %C      Oxford
      %D      1994
      %O      paperback, bibliography, index
      %G      ISBN 0-631-20529-2
      %P      xi,273pp
      %K      social history, medieval history

      30 August 2000

              Copyright (c) 2000 Danny Yee <editor@...>
              Danny Yee's Book Reviews      http://dannyreviews.com/

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