The Art of the Network

Strategic Interaction and Patronage in Renaissance Florence

The Art of the Network

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 5 figures, 7 tables Published: December 2007

Author: Paul D. McLean

History > European History, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Sociology

Writing letters to powerful people to win their favor and garner rewards such as political office, tax relief, and recommendations was an institution in Renaissance Florence; the practice was an important tool for those seeking social mobility, security, and recognition by others. In this detailed study of political and social patronage in fifteenth-century Florence, Paul D. McLean shows that patronage was much more than a pursuit of specific rewards. It was also a pursuit of relationships and of a self defined in relation to others. To become independent in Renaissance Florence, one first had to become connected. With The Art of the Network, McLean fills a gap in sociological scholarship by tracing the historical antecedents of networking and examining the concept of self that accompanies it. His analysis of patronage opens into a critique of contemporary theories about social networks and social capital, and an exploration of the sociological meaning of “culture.”

McLean scrutinized thousands of letters to and from Renaissance Florentines. He describes the social protocols the letters reveal, paying particular attention to the means by which Florentines crafted credible presentations of themselves. The letters, McLean contends, testify to the development not only of new forms of self-presentation but also of a new kind of self to be presented: an emergent, “modern” conception of self as an autonomous agent. They also bring to the fore the importance that their writers attached to concepts of honor, and the ways that they perceived themselves in relation to the Florentine state.


The Art of the Network is more than a tour de force of textual analysis and historical explanation. McLean has written a significant work of sociological theory that makes new contributions to ongoing debates on the nature of social identity and the relationship between agency and structure. . . . This innovative book, as exemplar and prescription, deserves serious attention from cultural and historical sociologists as well as from theorists.” — Richard Lachmann, American Journal of Sociology

“[T]his study offers some very intriguing implications for Florentine society, which this trove of letters helps reveal. . . . The author has provided a great service to historians by compiling and analyzing these letters.” — Edward Tabri, Journal of World History

“By providing a lucid and plausible account of how interaction is constituted by cultural work, he does a great service for those who wish to be analytical about culture in social networks. McLean’s rich description of rhetorical devices with which interactions are expressed provides a useful taxonomy for further explanatory analysis of culture and interaction.” — Hrag Balian, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“McLean maintains a very approachable style in this work despite the presence of sociological categories and terminology, so that the latter generally help to illuminate his concepts without being excessively intrusive for non-sociologist. Indeed, a recurring mimesis of the styles of his letters helps keep readers in touch with the sources, their authors, and the goals of their competitive, often anxious urban lives. That touch will surely be welcome by all. . . .” — Ann Moyer, H-Net Reviews

“McLean plumbs the depths of the historical record of Florentine correspondence to give us insight into the act of networking. . . . [A] fascinating and counterintuitive tale behind the rise of the modern conception of the self in Renaissance Florence.” — Emily Erikson, Historical Methods

“McLean’s study of Florentine patronage networks is thought-provoking, and his arguments about the modernity of the Renaissance self are potentially controversial. . . . Florentine specialists, in particular, will also benefit from the statistical evidence that McLean has assembled.” — Nicholas Scott Baker, Journal of Social History

“McLean’s study of the material and the process is the most systematic study ever undertaken, and for patronage letter junkies like myself it makes compulsive reading. . . . Historians can lean much from this book.” — Dale Kent, American Historical Review

The Art of the Network is a magnificent contribution to the social history of Renaissance Florence and the sociological study of how networks manifest themselves in complex societies. Paul D. McLean addresses with gusto such fundamental issues as the nature of social capital, the preservation of self, and the development of the ‘individual’ in European history. This will be a controversial book for all the right reasons.” — William J. Connell, Seton Hall University, editor of Society and Individual in Renaissance Florence

“Paul D. McLean weaves slants from Bourdieu and Swidler and Goffman together into his own trenchant vision of networking as identity process. You get analytic power along with rich historical understanding wrung from recalcitrant handwriting and ambiguous pronouncements in hundreds of letters across two centuries. Yet McLean is also witty and playful. His brief conclusion is an account of agency and culture so lucid as to be transposable to studies of your own.” — Harrison C. White, Columbia University, author of Identity and Control: A Structural Theory of Social Action


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paul D. McLean is Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Tables and Figures ix

Preface xi

1. The Principles of Networking as a Social Process 1

2. The Rhetoric and Design of Florentine Letter Writing 35

3. The Socially Contested Concept of Honor 59

4. What Gets Said When in Patronage Letters 90

5. The Dynamics of Office Seeking 121

6. Friends of Friends: Raccomandazione as Rhetoric and as Constitutive Principle 150

7. Patronage and the Stalled Transformation of the State 170

8. “Servants and Slaves in Everything and for Everything”: Renaissance Networking and the Emergent Modern Self? 193

Conclusion: Culture and the Network 224

Notes 231

Bibliography 255

Index 279
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4117-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4100-0
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