European Review of History / Revue Européenne d'Histoire vol:21 issue:5 pages:653-670
This article investigates how gossip developed as a tool of social control in eighteenth-century Kortrijk, an average-sized town in Flanders. Through gossip, people influenced others' behaviour, by performing social norms, by punishing violators of norms, by publicising the punishments of these deviants, and finally, by spreading information about improper behaviour, possibly leading to other sanctions. Previous research has insufficiently considered how the effects of gossip as social control were influenced by the historical situations in which it occurred. Most notably, the decline of honour and the formalisation of social control altered the ways in which people could effectively use the power of gossip, as in the second half of the eighteenth century, gossip was less a direct deterrent of deviant behaviour, but became more important in formal control settings.