The Problem of Reputation

Emily Kadens (Northwestern University)

Abstract: Advocates of the law merchant theory have put a great deal of weight on the role of reputation in regulating market transactions in premodern commerce. Reputation no doubt had an important place in the networked communities of merchants. But was it the only or the most important mechanism regulating commercial transactions? This talk explores the problems inherent in reputational information in the premodern period: it was easily manipulated, often inaccurate, and apparently not strong enough to prevent widespread fraud.