Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris
Gender, Ideology, and the Daily Lives of the Poor
This book about poor men and women in thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century Paris reveals the other side of the "age of cathedrals" in the very place where gothic architecture and scholastic theology were born. In Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris, Sharon Farmer extends and deepens the understanding of urban poverty in the High Middle Ages. She explores the ways in which cultural elites thought about the poor, and shows that their conceptions of poor men and women derived from the roles assigned to men and women in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis—men are associated with productive labor, or labor within the public realm, and women with reproductive labor, or labor within the private realm.
Farmer proceeds to complicate this picture, showing that elite society's attitude toward an individual's social role and moral capacity depended not only on gender but also on the person's social status. Such perceptions in turn influenced the kinds of care extended or denied to the poor by charitable organizations and the informal self-help networks that arose among the poor themselves. Of particular interest are Farmer's discussions of society's responses to men and women who were disabled to the point of being incapable of any work at all.