Scholars in households: Refiguring the learned habitus, 1480-1550

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Until the fifteenth century, celibacy was the rule among Christian scholars of northwestern Europe. Celibacy was a major element of the codified cultural representation of the scholar and his specific way of life, sustained by peculiar institutional arrangements and daily routines. Founding family households implied therefore a major reorganization of the scholar's way of life. Broadly speaking, this involved refashioning the scholarly habitus (understood as a system of durable and transposable social dispositions), redefining social relations, and developing the necessary material infrastructure. The paper focuses on three aspects of this process during a period characterized by uncertainty and experimentation. It discusses the structure of scholars' families, arguing that at least until the middle of the sixteenth century, received models still persisted, while new viable models for articulating family reproduction with the transmission of scholarly dispositions had not yet crystallized. It then turns to the reorganization of domestic space, focusing on the different uses of the study to manage social distance and regulate domestic relations. Finally, among the different manifestations of the scholarly habitus, it argues that the emotional detachment of learned men was itself a learned habit. The well-documented discussion of competing options for organizing scholars' family households and cultivating an acquired nature in academic settings provides an exceptional occasion to examine the way a group habitus is reshaped and to explore the cultural work involved in this process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-42
Number of pages34
JournalScience in Context
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 2003


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