The Economic History Review

Serfdom and social capital in Bohemia and Russia1

Volume 60 Issue 3
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Pages: 513-544Authors: T. K. DENNISON, SHEILAGH OGILVIE
Published online: March 19, 2007DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2006.00373.x

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The ‘horizontal’ social capital generated by networks and communities is widely regarded as inherently antagonistic to ‘vertical’ hierarchies such as serfdom. This article examines this view using evidence from pre-Emancipation Bohemia and Russia. It finds that serf communes generated a substantial ‘social capital’ of shared norms, common information, and collective sanctions. But communal social capital was manipulated by village elites who collaborated with overlords in taxation, land regulation, and demographic control. This benefited communal oligarchies, but harmed ordinary serfs and the wider economy. Horizontal social capital and vertical hierarchies, the article demonstrates, can as easily collude as conflict.