Modern scholars studying Renaissance Florence have performed a series of remarkable analytical feats by applying network theory to the study of social and political patronage. Officeholding, wealth, marriage, credit relationships, confraternal memberships, neighborhood and factional affiliation are among the variables that have been examined intensively for their role in helping to determine successful outcomes in terms of political control, wealth and social status. Especially useful has been Granovetter's classic model concerning the strength of "weak ties." In Renaissance Florence a network of weak social ties generally resulted in more successful patronage outcomes than a network of strong ones.
But the emphasis of these studies has been on patronage outcomes. What happens when these variables are studied for their impact on the communication of ideas? Do they result in the adoption of different modes of expression? How do they affect transparency? Is consensus a natural concomitant of broad networks of weak ties? The preservation of one hundred fifty years of the minutes of Florentine council meetings and the voluminous surviving correspondence of Florentine citizens make it possible to develop heuristic models for studying the quality of expression in the context of differing kinds of social ties. For Florence this can be done over a long period of time, covering a relatively large statistical group. As McLean has shown, through the study of a sample of correspondence, such social ties had a major impact on the forms of address and the language used by the reciprocal parties in correspondence. Can this type of analysis be extended to other forms of data? Does belonging to a large network of comprised of weak social ties encourage modes of expression not found in smaller networks of strong ties? What modes suppressed? Do social ties enable or hinder the contradiction of what has already been stated in a council meeting? What kinds of network are more likely to result in what Janis called “groupthink”? Are there social ties that allow for or even enhance the expression of radical disagreement?
Each of the speakers in this panel takes a fresh look at what we know about the patronage networks of Renaissance Florence. The goal is to move beyond the study of material outcomes and to look at the ways in which social ties affected the expression of ideas.