The Istituto storico italo-germanico (Isig) and the CHDJ (Université catholique de Louvain) will organize on the 7th of December 2012 in Trento (Italy) a conference about “Popular Justice in Sattelzeit Europe (1750-1870). Historiographical approaches and research perspectives”. The conference will aim to present a historiographical and epistemological summary of European popular justice studies and to build foundations for future research. People interested by the conference are invited to send a short summary of their paper (max. 2500 characters) and a short CV to the organizers: Emilie Delivré (firstname.lastname@example.org) et Emmanuel Berger (email@example.com). Papers can be presented in English, French, German or Italian. The deadline for the proposals’ sending is the 31th of March 2012.
Presentation of the Conference
The history of popular justice is, undoubtedly, one of the least developed historiographical fields when we factor in the interest that still surround its related stakes today. The strong reactions following the recent introduction of jurors in French correctional tribunals demonstrate this interest. They also serve to highlight the controversial representations of popular justice with regards to its advantages or, on the contrary, its flaws. According to historians, popular justice stems from Ancien Régime, be it from the Romans, the Franks, the Normans or the Saxons. It can be roughly defined as the exercise of justice by “the people”. The institutions that represent popular justice vary depending on the historical period (jury, justice of the peace, prud’hommes, Rügegerichte, etc.) and on popular practices (charivari, Rügegerichte, etc.).
The Sattelzeit constitutes one of the most important historical periods for the transition of popular justice in Europe. On the one hand, many plurisecular practices of popular justice (charivari, Rügegerichte) were progressively called into question. On the other hand, in the space of one century, the democratization of European societies and the progressive advent of political liberalism helped bring about the emergence of an institutionalized popular justice (justice of the peace, jury, etc.). The legitimacy of this justice, however, remained fragile when confronted with government fears of losing control of their regal powers and depended largely on the degree of modernisation of the States which, for the most part, remained firmly anchored in the Ancien Régime.
Despite the importance of popular justice during the Sattelzeit, both historians and legal historians have ignored this historiographical field or have limited their study to a national perspective. The very definition of popular justice remains open and requires new conceptual analyses. Consequently, this conference will aim to present a historiographical summary of the studies of popular justice and to build foundations for future research. With these objectives in mind, several themes shall be explored.
The first theme focuses on the definition of popular justice. Can we define popular justice in opposition to professional justice? How do we classify jurors that participate in the Aldermen justice (justice échevinale) alongside magistrates? In this case, the relations between popular justice and professional judges aren’t characterized by opposition as much as they are characterized by collaboration. The social representativeness of popular justice, that is to say its degree of “popularity”, must also be discussed. Is popular justice practiced by nobility? Is it subjected to universal suffrage, censitary suffrage, or suffrage based on capacities? All these questions raise the ambiguity of the term and call for new definitions.
The second theme deals with popular justice as a locus for social dialogue. In fact, we can criticize the field of legal history for neglecting a significant portion of legal reality when this reality doesn’t correspond to a vision of justice “from above”, emanating from the classic institutions. Consequently, we know very little about practices that serve as loci for communication between the elite and the “commoners”, and on the capacity of these “commoners” to influence the legal reality to which they are supposed to submit themselves through “disciplinarisation” (Disziplinierung).
The third theme is both heuristic and methodological. Which sources are accessible and allow for a study of popular justice? Though the theoretical approach is relatively well known, practical sources remain essentially forgotten and have not yet been classified. As such, we know little about the activities of popular institutions as fundamental as the jury d’assises during the French Revolution or the Rügegerichte in 19th century Germany. Determining the appropriate methodologies to evaluate practical sources will also be necessary.
The fourth and final theme deals with the interaction of popular justices throughout Europe. Rather than studying popular justice nationally, it appears fundamental to adopt a more global perspective, within the European space, to understand the processes of acculturation. Indeed, legal traditions have not always been as hermetic as we may have thought and models of popular justice have been successful in crossing national borders. For example, the Rügegerichte were declined in Geraüne, Landfrage and Wroginge according to the place. Though we know that the French jury was imported and “copied” from England, we shall seek to extend this comparison to the entirety of European states.
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