transition from feudalism to capitalism

transition from feudalism to capitalism

the process in Western Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries by which feudal society was succeeded by capitalist society. The term is most often associated with Marxist approaches but a distinctive Weberian approach can also be identified.

Marxists disagree about the decisive factors involved in the process. MARX identified two main factors: the emergence of autonomous craft manufacturing in the feudal towns around which capital developed; and the growth of overseas trade, particularly with the emergence of trade with the Americas in the 16th century and the emergence of merchant capital. The development was limited while labourers were tied to the land either as SERFS or independent PEASANTS. In England the enclosures movement forced the peasantry off the land, thus providing a labour supply for the towns and wage-labour on the land. Other European countries were slower in developing this ‘free’ labour force. Marx also spoke of the feudal aristocracy being replaced by the new BOURGEOISIE, but more recent analyses have shown that this is an oversimplification, especially in England where sections of the aristocracy became capitalist landlords and later became involved in industrial capitalism. Subsequent Marxist debates have centred around whether the growth of trade, the transformation of the labour force, or class conflict within FEUDALISM were the most important aspects of this process. (See Hilton (ed.), 1976, and Aston and Philipin (eds.), 1985, for two collections of key debates.)

The Weberian approach lays great emphasis upon the political changes in Western European feudalism, drawing on WEBER's observation that the key contradiction was between the attempts at centralization by the monarchy, and the local and regional powers invested in the feudal lords. Part of that contradiction was also expressed in the growth of towns as administrative and trading centres. Further, WEBER's thesis on the role of the PROTESTANT ETHIC introduces the role of beliefs in explaining social and economic change largely missing from the Marxist debate. However, Weber, in emphasizing such socioeconomic changes as the growth of trade, and transformations of labour force, should not be contrasted in any simplistic fashion with Marx.

This proviso is reflected in the appearance of recent works which examine the process drawing on both analytical traditions. Thus Perry ANDERSON (1974a & b) develops a Marxist approach which relies heavily on Weberian insights into the political contradictions and the role of the Christian Church, and Michael MANN (1986) provides an analysis drawing widely on both. See also CAPITALISM, SOCIAL CHANGE.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
It was considered the most important for Marx because human all beings required base of material goods in order to perpetuate their existence, and because Marx analysed how the power of the revolutionary bourgeoisie which allowed for the transition from feudalism to capitalism was based in the social power that they obtained through a change in social relations of production; (13) or in other words, a development in the dialectic of labour.
This book is, however, more than just a number of case studies that suggest the diversity and variations of serfdom, for it contributes to the long-debated question of why England pioneered in the transition from feudalism to capitalism.
Among his topics are time in the social sciences, the transition from feudalism to capitalism, remarks on pre-capitalist social time relations, world standard time, and the temporal forms of domination and resistance.
Hilton, The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London: Verso, 1976), republished in India by Aakar Books, 2006.
(4) Robert Brenner (1943-) has been an important and central voice in debates regarding the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and has argued that the role of agricultural production, in particular in England, was key to this transition in Europe.
Thus, Hindess and Hirst concede, in their later discussion of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, that the very semantics of mode of production in Marx are weak.
The process of the transition from feudalism to capitalism was not a clear cut progression, and the forces underpinning the transition have been the subject of much debate.
His topics include the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the evolving structure of capitalism before and after the advent of Fordism, the post-Fordist phase of monopoly capitalism, the functioning of the capitalist economic system, capitalism in the global context, and imperialism.
The transition from feudalism to capitalism is, as the passage shows, less of a transition from manufacture to industry but more a change of power between nobility and bourgeoisie.
The transition from capitalism to socialism presents problems that did not exist in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. In late medieval Europe, a discontented serf, a Protestant artisan, an experimental scientist, or an enterprising moneylender could do small-scale, piecemeal things to begin to build a new society within the old.
So, are we back at the Marxist transition from feudalism to capitalism? No, because Wrightson thinks the changes were set in motion blindly, animated by a demand for goods, generated by demographic expansion, not by class advance.
The strange irony of our own time is that a number of professional historians have turned their backs on demography and have instead given pride of place to the role of class conflict in successive stages of social development from ancient slavery, to feudalism, and onwards into capitalism; a natural presentist bias has focused their interest on the 'transition from feudalism to capitalism'.

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