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City Knights: Urban Networking and City Life in Late Medieval Iberia

Abstract

This article focuses on a 1315 confraternity of non-noble and noble knights from across the Iberian Peninsula to protect themselves against the arbitrary power of the high nobility. This network of city knights regulated itself by means of a document presented to the Cortes of Burgos in 1315, and that was discussed and eventually approved by the regents of the kingdom.

Velasco, Jesús R. “City Knights: Urban Networking and City Life in Late Medieval Iberia.” La Construcció d’Identitats Imaginades. Literatura Medieval i Ideologia. Ed. Julián Acebrón, Isabel Grifoll, and Flocel Sabaté. Lleida: Pagès, 2015: 187-216.

Rebel cities and urban uprisings are an integral part of current political conversations. Such uprisings are not merely masses of indivi- duals challenging current powers and governments. They also raise the question of whether urban expressions and demands for a civil voice imply a turning point in the struggle for power.

These struggles have also propounded, whether explicitly or im- plicitly, that civil life is a horizontal one in which the concept of fra- ternity —perhaps only a shadow of revolutionary fraternité— has played and is still playing an important role. Slavoj Žižek first considered that this horizontality was one of the pitfalls of the movement because it hampered them from establishing a likely list of demands. This reading is more appropriate, as many scholars have argued, to the uprisings in the West than to those that received the awful name of the Arab Spring or the Arab Awakening —awful because it is none other than a patronizing, Western, orientalist expression of current prejudices about countries with a Muslim majority.

Horizontal organizations, however, have a major advantage: they are more prone to expand and to reach, by capillary communication, larger portions of society that normally imagine themselves existing outside of the political struggle. Communication is thus essential for these kinds of horizontal movements and critical of vertical communication as well as official systems of education. We see this in many different instances: new forms of non-corporate communication use available technologies; reading and discussion groups meet in the streets; and universities leave the classrooms in order to face the winter of their discontent in places like the Puerta del Sol in Madrid during a cold day of November. The demands might not form a list, but they are far-reaching if they are well interpreted, and they, of course, give a completely different view of what is common; what is the participation of the people in politics; and how civil life may change preconceived structures of power.

Civil uprisings, urban networking, and civil life, no matter how contemporary it is, must also be historicized. The genealogy of current international issues of global nature additionally raises the question of how and by what means city life and urban networking became a cru- cial element for the opposition of central powers, and why collective practices of power were thus devised to fight against monarchical and oligarchical models. Historicizing uprisings also means investigating the procedures by which urban networking and city life established lists and programs of concrete requests and structures of control that were put forth for negotiation in legally constituted assemblies. Historicizing is definitely a way to understand the process by which a society is created via processes of association and assembly or re-assembly, thus giving us a better understanding of social movements in general.

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