Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law

Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law

Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law

Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law

Excerpt

Since the present book has provided me with the opportunity to roam outside my customary intellectual terrain I should give some account of how I came to undertake the present project. I had for some time been interested in the general question of the ways in which law does not work in isolation, but always in combination with other economic, political and social mechanisms. One strand of those inquiries led me to become involved in a reassessment of the implications of Foucault's treatment of the role of law in the advent of modernity (Hunt 1992). I became increasingly aware of a tension between Foucault's exciting treatment of discipline and a growing dissatisfaction with his characterization of the part played by law in the transition to modernity. He had a tendency to reduce his account of pre-modern law to a system of royal commands backed by the threat of force. This just seemed too simple. I found myself reading material on the role of law and government in the transition to modernity. I came across Marc Raeff's fascinating account of the 'well-ordered police state' in early modern Germany (Raeff 1983). It was here that I first encountered a brief reference to the existence of sumptuary laws. Despite a disciplinary background in law I was surprised to encounter a species of law whose existence I was not aware of.

My initial explorations in the field were intended merely to fill this gap. I discovered that the typical piece of sumptuary legislation imposed restrictions on the type of clothing that people could wear, usually by prohibiting named cloths or styles. There also existed many other varieties of sumptuary law, but restrictive dress codes will serve as my standard example. Not only did I discover that such laws had been widespread, but I found myself becoming more and more fascinated because they disclosed the existence of distinctive projects of governance whose unique character offered a potentially fertile context in which to explore how projects of governance came to be formed, pursued and subsequently changed or abandoned. The very distance between sumptuary law . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.