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Germanic fief, but was not used until the seventeenth

century. When defined narrowly as a legal

relationship, it refers to a set of reciprocal legal

and military obligations within the nobility between

a lord and a vassal. In this hierarchical

relationship, the lord granted land, or a fief, to a

vassal through a commendation ceremony involving

homage and an oath of fealty. In return for the

land and, in addition, protection from the lord,

the vassal was obliged, through the principle of

fidelitas, to provide military service and to give

“counsel” or aid to the overlord (suzerain). There

was also often a process of subinfeudation in

which a vassal would grant part of his fief to

another vassal and become a lord himself. Although

having some basis in Roman times, this

system of allegiance is generally regarded as

having emerged slowly during the ninth and

tenth centuries as a means to reinstitute social

order, and to protect against further incursion,

following the Germanic incursions.

With reference to political rule, owing to poor

communications and transport, and the localized

character of the agricultural economy based essentially

on a manorial system, feudalism was

characterized by decentralized institutions of

power. Although the king was generally regarded

as the chief lord, in reality governmental authority

was fragmented so that individual lords and

barons had considerable autonomy and largely

administered their own estates. Power was exercised

by the lords predominantly through jurisdiction

and the holding of courts to settle disputes.

This was backed by the ideological power of the

church which owned a considerable amount of

land, as did many bishops and abbots. The church

also emphasized the divinely created and hierarchical

nature of a society divided into three

major social classes: those who prayed (clergy),

those who fought (nobility), and those who

worked (peasants).

A second definition of feudalism gives prominence

to economic rather than juridical relations.

Here the hierarchical relationship between lord

and vassal is extended to include the socioeconomic

obligations of peasants and serfs. For

fertility feudalism

203


Karl Marx, feudalism was primarily a mode of

production, which, unlike slavery and capitalism,

permitted some control over the means of production

to peasants, especially through customary

rights. The dynamic underlying feudalism was

sustained through the exploitation of peasant

tenants by lords, vis-a`-vis the extraction of feudal

rent, usually through labor services on the demesne

(home farm). The level of feudal rent was

determined by the relative military or political

strength of the lords as compared to the serfs,

who, at minimum, had to maintain family subsistence.

This antagonism was often expressed in

peasant uprisings.

Rather than the etymological question of

whether and to what extent feudalism existed,

the crucial question for many Marxists has concerned

the transition from feudalism to capitalism

and the role played by internal relationships

of feudalism as opposed to the external impact

of the market in accounting for the transition.

There have, however, been other more general

definitions of feudalism which have attempted

to fuse these definitions by accentuating the

social, political, and economic criteria existing

in the Middle Ages. Writing from a sociological

perspective, Marc Bloc in Feudalism (1939–40) has

argued that feudalism includes: a subject peasantry;

widespread use of the service tenement

(that is, the fief) instead of a salary; the supremacy

of a class of specialized warriors; ties of obedience

and protection which bind man to man

and, within the warrior class, assume the distinctive

form called vassalage; fragmentation of authority,

leading inevitably to disorder; and the

survival of other forms of association.

However, given the diversity of practices, types

of social relationship, and customs characterizing

this period, as well as the diversity of national

and geographical differences and inflections,

medieval historians, such as Elizabeth Brown in

her essay “The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism

and the Historians of Medieval Europe” (1974,

American Historical Review), have argued that the

varied use of the term renders it meaningless,

and that its application to the medieval world is

confusing and inaccurate. Nevertheless, given

the existence of key characteristics and concepts

associated with the Middle Ages, the term is still

widely used in history and sociology.

STEVEN LOYAL

Feyerabend, Paul (1924–1994)

Born in Austria, Feyerabend initially studied philosophy

at the University of Vienna and then at the

London School of Economics under Karl Popper.

He made an important, albeit iconoclastic, contribution

to the philosophy of science. He initially

followed Popper’s philosophical outlook, but soon

deviated from it, embracing instead the historical

approach of Thomas Samuel Kuhn in his Structure

of Scientific Revolutions (1962). From the early 1960s

onwards Feyerabend devoted himself to exploring

the relevance of the history of science for the

philosophy of science. Feyerabend was a prolific

author; his main contribution remains Against

Method; Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge

(1975). He contributed to the debate surrounding

falsificationism. This debate is summarized in

Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), edited

by Alan Musgrave and Imre Lakatos.

At the time, many philosophers, like Popper,

tried to uncover the method common to all scientific

practices and which distinguishes them from

non-scientific activities. Feyerabend questioned

the validity of this philosophical enterprise. The

history of science shows that there is no single

method common to all sciences: a detailed historical

outlook demonstrates that scientists operate

in very different ways. The consequences

for critical rationalism were devastating. Feyerabend

argued that not only did scientists not

operate in a Popperian fashion, but also, if they

had followed Popper’s prescriptions, they would

not have progressed to the same extent.

PATRICK BAERT

fieldwork

This is a broad type of qualitative research also

sometimes known as ethnography or as observation

and participant observation. Regardless of

the label, the research is based upon collecting

information through observation of how people

live “real life.” Fieldwork is a qualitative technique

because the researcher is striving to obtain richly

detailed information about the social situation

they are interested in and will be using inductive

methods of analysis to generalize from the data

in order to develop conceptual ideas.

Fieldwork can be grouped into three types,

each with an increasing level of involvement and

contact between researchers and their subjects.

The observation of some ongoing social situation

but without direct contact or involvement

by the researcher. For example, I am interested in

barbecue culture in the southern United States

and decide to observe the interactions between

customers and staff in Dizzy’s Bar-B-Q.

With observant participation, the researcher

begins to observe and collect information about

Feyerabend, Paul (1924–1994) fieldwork

204


some ongoing social situation that s/he is already

involved in during their normal everyday activities.

That is, the researcher has to “step outside

himself/herself” and begin to look at the everyday

social environment from a new point of view –

that of the researcher – and begin to apply techniques

of observation, note-taking, and analysis.

For example, I am a regular at Dizzy’s Bar-B-Q and

decide to carry out a systematic observation of the

interactions between the manager, employees,

and customers. The advantages of observant participation

are that researchers already have access

and are their own source of insider knowledge.

The disadvantage is that, unlike the observer

coming from outside, one may find it difficult to

switch to the role of a researcher. Things that have

always been taken for granted may be important

and can easily be overlooked.

Where the researcher immerses him/herself in

a social environment that is new to him/her: for

example, getting a job in Dizzy’s in order to do

research on southern barbecue culture. This immersion

starts to give the researcher the same

level of access and opportunity to gain insider

knowledge but participant observation is more

than that. It is the process of gradual internalization

by the novice researcher of the cultural

mores of the observed group that is the key to

true participant observation and that makes it

truly qualitative. The researcher is immersed in a

social environment that is new to him/her, and

the presumption is that they can be aware of how

their own reactions and feelings alter as they

become socialized. In effect, the researcher’s own

feelings, and how they change, become data.

A crucial decision the researcher must make

is whether to reveal to those being observed that

they are being researched – to carry out overt

research – or to keep the research subjects unaware

– to adopt a covert role. The advantages of

a covert role include: (1) it may be impossible to

observe some types of behavior or groups unless

it is done covertly – when this is the case and the

topic of research is sufficiently important, this

can be a justification for covert research; (2)

access, getting permission to carry out research,

is not a problem if the research is covert – if no

one knows you are doing it, obviously there is

no problem; (3) people may behave differently if

they know they are being researched – if they

don’t know they are being observed, the problem

of reactivity is avoided.

There are a number of disadvantages to covert

fieldwork, such as the practical difficulties and

psychological costs of maintaining a front, but

the main disadvantage of covert research is its

questionable ethics. The research subjects are

being deceived and their privacy may be invaded.

Specifically, they obviously do not have the

opportunity to give informed consent.

ROBERT MILLER

figurational sociology

– see Norbert Elias.

firms


This is the organization of production of largescale

enterprises, employing wage labor and

financed by bank-credit money, and is a typical

element of capitalism. This superseded various

forms of domestic and household production in

which work and the household are integrated,

and production is financed entirely from saved

income. There are three general theories of this

development: (1) new institutional economics; (2)

Weberian theories of bureaucracy; and (3) Marxist

theories of exploitation.

(1) New institutional economics is an attempt

to explain social institutions as the result of rational

economic maximization. If, as economic

theory maintains, the market is the most efficient

form of organization, why, the Nobel prize-winner

Ronald Coase (1910– ) asked in 1935, do firms

exist? Why did the large vertically integrated

firm replace the putting-out system in which independent

domestic producers were connected

and coordinated by contractual market relations?

Coase answered that firms exist when there is

a cost to using the market mechanism. In a series

of publications beginning with Markets and

Hierarchies (1975), Oliver Williamson has elaborated

this insight and integrated it with Alfred

Chandler’s The Visible Hand (1977). Market relations

incur “transactions costs.” For example, there

may be only a few acceptable suppliers of raw

material (“small numbers bargaining” and “asset

specificity”) which may enable them to take advantage

of a producer (“opportunism with guile”).

These market relations can be controlled only

by costly surveillance and legal contracts, which

may be more efficient to replace by internalizing

them into an integrated hierarchy. The firm replaces

production chains and networks, as command

and authority replace contract. Types of

firm, varying by levels of backward or forward

integration, may be placed on a continuum:

from vertically integrated bureaucratic firms

through looser structures such as franchising

or dealerships. Transactions-cost economics is

used to explain the transnational firm (see

fieldwork firms

205


transnational corporations); hierarchy is less

costly than transnational contracts with spatially

and culturally distant suppliers. Several problems

persist with this analysis owing to an inadequate

treatment of “hierarchy” as a structure of power,

rather than as merely a rationally devised costreducing

mechanism. Where does power to choose

an organizational form come from? Large firms are

not simply an alternative to costly market exchange,

but a means of superseding the market to

make monopoly profits, as argued in Giovanni

Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century (1994).

(2) An alternative sociological explanation of

the firm’s role in producing economic rationality

is provided by Max Weber. In General Economic

History (1927 [trans. 1981]), he contrasts the rationality

of the capitalist firm with traditional

workshop production and booty capitalism. Rationality

is seen as the capacity to calculate and

is linked to the use of double-entry bookkeeping

to strike a balance (rational capital accounting).

This capacity is structurally dependent on

the bureaucratic firm. Like the modern state, the

capitalist firm is a corporate body that becomes

structurally differentiated from household and

family, which enables the removal of arbitrary

nonrational decisionmaking based on traditional

norms and family ties. This is attributed in part

to the use of external credit finance and the

need for the precise calculation of returns due

to nonfamily, as opposed to a share in the common

family pot. This occurred most clearly in

the West; for example, in trading associations –

such as the ship’s company and the spreading

of risk in commenda finance. This analysis remains

relevant for modern debates. Is oriental family

capitalism a viable alternative to the western

model, or is it crony capitalism that impedes economic

rationality? Similarly, is the joint-stock

corporation, owned by outsiders, the most efficient

form of organization? Weber appears to

concur with modern economic analysis that the

firm’s separation from family ownership creates

a competitive market in which a firm’s market

value, based on performance, is a means of monitoring

the managerial bureaucracy.

Formal rationality (calculation of profitability)

has a substantive basis in the power and control

that comes with the complete appropriation of

nonhuman means of production and the formally

free labor market. Capitalists and their

managers can freely manipulate the production

process, and hire and fire workers at will to

maximize returns to capital (see Marxist theory

below). The firm is an agency for calculation, not

(as in economic theory) an aggregation of calculating

agents. Therefore, in contrast to the view of

new institutional economics, the bureaucratic

firm is not an alternative to the market, but the

complementary location of economic rationality.

For Weber it is a question of markets and hierarchies,

not markets or hierarchies.

(3) For Karl Marx, the capitalist firm exists in

order to dominate and exploit wage labor. In his

critique of classical economics, Marx made a

distinction between labor and labor-power. The

worker does not sell a fixed unit of labor input

for a wage in an equal exchange. Rather, the

worker sells, or alienates, labor power – or productive

potential – to be organized by the capitalist.

Labor not only exchanges effort for reward,

but submits to domination in the labor process

which enables the capitalist to extract surplus

value through exploitation. Thus, the form taken

by the capitalist firm is the means by which labor

is transformed into capital. In “What Do Bosses

Do? The Origins and Functions of Hierarchy in

Capitalist Production,” in Anthony Giddens and

David Held (eds.), Classes, Power and Conflict (1982),

Stephen Marglin argues that the division of labor

and the centralized hierarchical organization

of the firm are not determined by technology,

but by the need to create and accumulate capital.

The bourgeoisie play its historic role by exploiting

the workers in order to gain a competitive

advantage and, in doing so, advances the means

of production. In Labor and Monopoly Capital

(1974), Harry Braverman distinguishes two central

features of the capitalist firm: the social division

of labor (occupations) and task specialization; and

the separation of hand and brain through the

deskilling and appropriation of the knowledge

function in a management hierarchy. Both are

determined by the need to maintain power and

control in the firm.

In Chaos and Governance in the Modern World

System (2000), Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly Silver

identify three dominant historical forms of capitalist

firm. Each is associated with successive

capitalist state hegemonies: (1) Dutch and English

joint-stock chartered companies in the

seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; (2) British

family-enterprise capitalism in the nineteenth

century; and (3) American multidivisional, multi/

transnational corporations from the early twentieth

century. Each attempted global monopolization

of the most profitable activities; each was

dependent to a significant degree on external

financing; and, in the development of a contradiction,

each comes to depend increasingly on,

firms firms

206


but is ultimately subversive of, hegemonic state

power.


(1) Joint-stock chartered companies had their

origins in commenda-trading ship finance in Italian

city-states such as Venice and Genoa during the

sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The English

East India Company (1600) and Dutch East Indies

Company (1602) were granted monopoly charters

by their respective states, which were not quite

powerful enough to monopolize the trade themselves.

These firms were a hybridization of capital

and coercion. They internalized their protection

costs with their own armies; but externalized

transactions costs by organizing production in

long chains of domestic production. That is to

say, unlike earlier empires, these company states

did not only exact tribute and taxes, or impose

direct controls on an economy, but also financed

and coordinated indigenous workshop/communal

production into a chain, as in the European

putting-out system. A dynamic Indian cotton industry

exported to Europe. But there were two

contradictions; the increasing coercion costs were

borne by the Company, and its repatriated profits

helped to transform the British textile industry

which opposed the East India Company’s monopoly,

which was consequently abolished in 1813.

(2) Nineteenth-century British family-enterprise

capitalism was based on the protection of global

networks, undertaken by imperial powers, in

which domestic production became linked to exploitation

of empires’ primary products. European

domestic production was transformed by mechanization,

which facilitated the reorganization

of proto-capitalist putting-out chains into factories

that reduced transactions costs, and the subordination

of the workers to a calculable regime

of rigorous exploitation. As Adam Smith (1723–

90), and later Marx and Engels, observed, the intense

competition, unchecked by state-controlled

monopolies, and reduction of capital costs

through mechanical innovation led to falling profits

and a deflationary spiral, culminating in the

sharp down-turn of the business cycle.

(3) Modern corporations emerged at the top

level of capitalist economies, most clearly in the

United States, in the last quarter of the nineteenth

century. They were large oligopolies or monopolies

with bureaucratic management, separated

to some degree from owners. From their inception,

the American enterprises were multidivisional

and multi/transnational. Two factors were

involved. First, as Marx observed, incapable of raising

enough capital for large-scale mass production

technology, family capitalism was replaced by

joint-stock corporations. Second, vertical integration

of production chains in large corporations

and horizontal combination in cartels were means

of avoiding the earlier competition that had reduced

profits to intolerable levels. Different paths

were taken in dominant economies.

In Germany, as part of a state-building process,

there was horizontal and vertical integration in

association with the big banks. Families retained

some power via large banks and the state elite.

This path was also characteristic of Japanese

capitalism.

Britain moved more slowly towards monopoly

capitalism. A looser and more fragmented familybased

structure persisted until after World War II.

The City of London remained cosmopolitan and

concerned with commercial and financial activity

of the world as explained in Geoffrey Ingham,

Capitalism Divided? (1984).

In the United States, the bureaucratic, multidivisional,

multi/transnational corporations based




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