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Geographic and Social Mobility in Early-Modern France

James B. Collins
Journal of Social History
Vol. 24, No. 3 (Spring, 1991), pp. 563-577
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3787815
Page Count: 15
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Geographic and Social Mobility in Early-Modern France
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Abstract

Using a comparison of tax roll data and parish registers, we can redesign three key flawed elements of the "Annales" paradigm of early-modern French rural society: 1) underestimation of the role of the market economy; 2) failure to explain the nature of capital investment in the rural economy; and 3) gross exaggeration of social stability. Seventeenth-century French peasants had ties to the market economy, provided much of the capital investment necessary for agricultural growth, and frequently moved from village to village (or town). Geographic mobility, directly tied to the market and to the need for investment capital, was the main path to social mobility. The "stable" core of French society, town guildspeople and village "laboureurs," included cases of staggering social and geographic continuity, but even this core required regular renewal. Accepting the existence of these two societies, of the constant tension between them, and of a extensive geographic and social mobility tied to a market economy, holds the key to a clearer understanding of the evolution of early-modern France's social structure, of its economy, and even of its political system.

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