Article: Science as a Craft Industry

Lots of great quotes and big predictions here.

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Young people, it seemed, had only two choices, either to join the ranks of employees of big enterprises or to lose interest in technology altogether.

The guilds of the middle ages […] tried to prevent by force the transformation of the master of a trade into a capitalist, by limiting the number of labourers that could be employed by one master within a very small maximum… Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel (in his “Logic”), that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes.

Karl Marx, 1887. Capital (Volume I). Progress Publishers, Chapter 13 ‘Co-operation’ p218.

It’s hard to speak of “guilds” as one entity, since they varied so much, over space and over time. But numerical control of labor was happening at all levels, not just the top.

The Company of Griffarins and other journeyman associations resisted masters taking on too many apprentices. Apprentices were far cheaper than journeymen. They could also leave journeymen trampers out of work by filling spots in the limited number of available workshops.

Outside free cities (travail libre), master craftsmen routinely limited the number of masters—and therefore the number of shops—approved in a given area.

The guilds are really fascinating entities. It’s amazing how little research has been done on them. Their popular history seems to have been written primarily by their opponents, the early free-market/liberal economists.

Sure… but I think it’s a reliable analysis to group entities as a class based on having shared attributes? The main attribute to qualify as a guild rather than an industrial corporation here I think is size… the opportunity of mass production from automation and totalitarian control of the labor force working day by landowners must have been the main motivating force that sealed the fate of the early guilds? I don’t think liberal economists are as influential as the property owning class are in determining history. They seem to fill more of an ideological role but YMMV depending on whether you believe ideas are shaped by material conditions, or material conditions are shaped by ideas?

I’ve read that a split developed between large trading and industrial guilds and smaller craft guilds. So the Medici, for example, grew out of the Florentine textile guild. In the end, the merchant and industrial guild masters essentially left the guild structure behind. Especially after they were able to form independent financial institutions.

There were also splits within the craft guilds between wealthy masters, who often functioned more like capitalists, and smaller masters. Mostly in the later period.

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