Work and Status
Life is a struggle - a constant attempt to make the most of one's condition, to improve one's lot, to provide for one's own future and, in many cases, for that of one's family. This is true of all people, at all times. In the struggle for a secure and meaningful life, men and women exploit any number of available resources. Intelligence and health always help. Communal support may compensate for the lack of either or both. But the most important resources on which people draw are generally derived from the two great spheres of human experience and identity: work and family.
We may begin with work. For most adults in most human societies, work is the unavoidable precondition for the economic security to which all aspire. Of course different types of work yield vastly different rewards. Yet people are highly constrained in choosing the work they perform. What kind of work people do is partly determined by the opportunities available within the economic system of their society. But it is also heavily controlled by such factors as age, gender, family background and social status. This is true today, but it was even more powerfully true in early modern times. So in order to understand the role of work in the early modern city, we must begin by looking at the overall structure of social organization.
As in every human society, the fundamental characteristic of urban social structure in early modern times was inequality: some individuals exercised more power, commanded more respect or controlled more resources than others. This much is easy to grasp. But to describe convincingly the actual structure of social inequality in any particular setting is a daunting task. Almost every attempt to describe social