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From Custom to Rule: The Mechanisms of Authority in the Medieval English Church

From Custom to Rule: The Mechanisms of Authority in the Medieval English Church

By Ryon Lancaster

Paper given at the Conference on the Emergence of Social Organization (2007)

Introduction: To study the emergence of new social forms presents difficult theoretical and methodological challenges. It is difficult theoretically because we need to de-essentialize important concepts that are commonly used to understand these social forms once they exist. Methodologically it is difficult because to study emergence means to study the shift from non-existence to existence of these new social forms. This paper is part of a larger project to understand the development of formal organization in its classic form: bureaucracy. Bureaucracy has been central to our understandings of modernity, and contemporary understandings of organizations developed from initial theorizations of bureaucracy. However, the theories that have developed to understand organizations are not always well-suited to understand how formal organizations develop in the first instance. To this end, this paper examines the development of new forms of authority within the medieval church, the first continuous instance of bureaucracy in the West, and a case of de novo bureaucratization.

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