Schwächediskurse und Ressourcenregime

Überlegungen zu Hanse, Recht und historischem Wandel


  • Albrecht Cordes
  • Philipp Höhn
  • Alexander Krey



The paper examines how the focus and the guiding concepts of the new Collaborative Research Center (CRC, Sonderforschungsbereich 1095, Frankfurt a.M.), installed in 2015, on “Discourses of Weakness and Resource Regimes”, can be applied to legal history. The CRC analyzes the transformation of historical formations (states, cities, societies) by examining the internal debates on their own perceived deficits and the effects of these discussions on the formations themselves. After a brief introduction, the paper introduces the concept of discourses of weakness. It is a frequent historical phenomenon that internal or external observers detect a particular weakness in a historical formation and give voice to their observations. This typically leads to discourses which undermine complacency and spotlight problems. These debates can trigger changes of the rules by which resources are distributed within the formation. One has to distinguish such public controversies from factual weakness and avoid taking them at face value, since allegations of weakness typically serve a tactical or political purpose. The second part of the paper attempts to evaluate ‘resource regimes’ as a category of historical investigation. While there is common ground between the concepts ‘resource regimes’ and ‘institutions’, the term ‘institution’ is usually employed in a narrow economic context, while ‘resource regimes’ is a broader term denoting the norms and practices regulating the distribution of resources. The terms ‘resource regimes’ also opens up a path to an alternative understanding of the law: Law not as an abstract set of norms, but as an arena in which conflicts between parties are fought. The law structures these conflicts and tries to channel them into non-violent forms, and in the process of adjudication is itself altered in substance. The third part of the paper presents two case studies which illustrate these concepts. In the 1460s, England and the Hansa debated the question of Hanseatic deficits, namely the English claim that the Hansa constituted a person in law: The Hansa denied this in order to avoid collective liability for the depredations of individual merchants and sailors. This was not an attempt to create a historically viable self-definition, but the tactical use of an alleged weakness. The second case study regards the disputes between the Old and the New Council of Lübeck around 1410, which led to debates also involving the other Hanseatic towns and the aldermen of the Hanseatic Kontor in Bruges. Each of these parties can be understood as a resource regime. Their interaction generated a complex landscape of conflict marked by a mixture of collaboration and confrontation. The category ‘resource regimes’ helps to integrate processes of conflict management and conflict resolution into the broader and more flexible framework of legal and constitutional history. This is a powerful argument for viewing legal history as the history of culturally embedded legal practices. By focusing on controversies, conflicts and dynamics, our concepts can contribute to a new understanding of Hanseatic legal history.