Waste Not: Criminalizing Wastefulness in Early Modern Germany

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Date

2017

Authors

Elrod, Ashley Lynn

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Robisheaux, Thomas

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Abstract

This dissertation analyzes the development of legal strategies to restrict “wastefulness” or “prodigality” during the economic crises of the long sixteenth century in Southwest Germany, as the state, community and small town families struggled to preserve family and household resources. Using local, state, and imperial court trials of “spendthrifts” from early modern Württemberg, the thesis shows that prodigality laws provided litigants with a flexible, multifaceted tool to prevent reckless financial mismanagement. Once laws began to criminalize wastefulness in the mid-sixteenth century, lawmakers, litigants, and judges used this concept to intervene in family affairs and brand heads of households as legally incompetent. Although litigants largely applied spendthrift laws against male heads of households, family members and the authorities also challenged women with property, accusing them of squandering precious family resources and transgressing gender- and class specific standards of proper household management. The new legal and social culture of thrift and wastefulness not only had profound consequences for gender- and class-based norms of economic behavior but also transformed those economic norms into prerequisites for legal personhood. Finally, the thesis suggests ways in which early modern guardianship and spendthrift laws shaped wider concepts of citizenship, rationality, disability, and deviance, pointing to long-lasting influences that shaped state policies in Germany into the twentieth century.

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Citation

Elrod, Ashley Lynn (2017). Waste Not: Criminalizing Wastefulness in Early Modern Germany. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/14462.

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