"In the rapidly growing cities of late medieval and early modern Italy and the Low Countries new forms of trust emerged that gave social cohesion to the urban community. The new trust networks, based on the building blocks of kinship ties and extra-familial co-operation, strengthened the processes of social integration and community building in the medieval city. This project aims to reveal the social mechanisms that underlay these solidarities as well as to determine the factors that facilitated their formation. It does so by comparing the developments in cities with different political and socio-economic profiles from Italy and the Low Countries. This comparative research will enhance our knowledge about the structural factors that explain the relation between the emergence of trust networks – in particular the ruling elites and the guild organisations – and the evolution of urban communities and civil society. This approach raises methodological challenges concerning the comparison of different case studies and diverse data, which must be dealt with. The research will also contribute to the interdisciplinary debate about the practice of trust and the functioning of familial and extra-familial solidarity, drawing on sociological theory pertaining to trust and social networks. Finally, the research will add to our understanding of the bottom-up trust-building strategies of actors of various political and socio-economic backgrounds, thereby assessing the impact of more general forms of trust embodied by the medieval urban corporate and public institutions. The central question, however, is to explain how kinship ties and extra-familial social networks strengthened and facilitated the process of urban community building in Western Europe from 1250 to 1550."
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