Paul McLean, John Padgett

Paper #: 05-02-001

In any form of life, 'flow' among units carries transpositions, of either the inventive or the reproductive sorts. In biological applications, this is metabolic flow of chemicals among species within generations, and it is genetic flow of DNA across generations within species. In our Florentine case study, 'flow' was operationalized primarily as biography---the lifecourse transitions of people through sequences of roles. Biographies usually act like energic food to the organizations and institutions of the city, transforming people flowing through them into reproducing the roles and self-interests contained within those institutions. But occasionally, when catalyzed to do so, biographies and the people flowing through them tip their own regulation and transform themselves. In our case, the Ciompi revolt, whose origins were only thinly analyzed in this article, was the catalytic event in question that triggered this tipping. The Ciompi revolt transformed the sequencing, composition and content of political, economic and kinship roles, especially within the elite, thereby reorganizing the coordinated biographies of many. We focused especially on the popolani domestic bankers, who transformed themselves in order to maintain themselves. In this article we showed how the economic invention of the partnership system was the unintended consequence of the institutional reorganization of the republican state, which cascaded into banking through political mobilization and social embedding in marriage. Evolution in Florentine international finance was the corollary of Florentine elite transformation.