Coercion through Remuneration in the Swedish Servant Institution

Gustafscenen Session 1: Labour, living standards and inequality organized by Erik Bengtsson, Kathryn Gary, Tobias Karlsson, Malin Nilsson and Jakob Molinder


Martin Andersson, Carolina Uppenberg


The servant institution was one of the most important and wide-spread forms of remunerated labour in northern and western Europe during the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. Servants and their position consequently play a key role in some of the most important recent debates in history, economic history, and social history; regarding the European marriage pattern, gender equality and economic development, and wages and living standards. In this paper, we contribute to these debates, as well as to studies of coercions in work, by analysing how remuneration practices functioned as a means to produce and reproduce coercion within the servant institution in Sweden. We show that, on top of the violent and legal means available to masters, the specific remuneration of the servant institution was yet another instrument in the bundle of coercive practices that characterized the institution, an instrument which exhibited an astonishing continuity from medieval times up until the end of the nineteenth century. We argue that this aspect is central to the servant remuneration, and that this must be acknowledged when discussing the role of the servant institution for gender equality and economic development in early modern Europe


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