Agrarian class structure and the forces for change II: usurpationary closure
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One of the fundamental assumptions of closure theory is that the social exclusion which constitutes society’s basic structure of inequality has the potential to provoke a response in the form of the usurpationary struggles of those who are excluded. Unlike the social consensus emphasised by functionalist stratification theory (see above, p. 7), closure theorists thus tend to see the relationship between classes ‘as one of permanent tension and mutual antagonism’. For a number of historians, particularly those associated with the Marxist tradition, a key weakness of the orthodox emphasis on the rise and fall of population as the prime mover of social and economic change (see chapter 2) is its underestimation of the role of class structure and of class struggle in determining the path of medieval social development. For such historians, changes in social relations, such as the withering away of villeinage in late medieval England, are not simply the product of demographic change. On the contrary, they argue that the effects of medieval population change can only be understood when seen in the context of specific forms of property relations and of the class struggle which, they believe, was inherent within medieval society. Yet other historians, such as Postan and Hatcher, reject the significance which the Marxists ascribe to class or, like Britton, deny that the relations between lord and peasant were inherently conflictual in the first place.
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