Aleatoric Governance: Elite transformation in Basel, 1688-1798

Project period: 2020 - 2024

with Malte Doehne

In this project, we consider the use of lotteries as a governance mechanism for the recruitment of leadership positions in society and in expert organizations. We focus on the use of lotteries in the Swiss city state of Basel in the 18th century. In Basel, lotteries were introduced in the late 17th century in response to an increasing consolidation of power by an inner circle of elite families who had come to dominate the economic, cultural, and political spheres of the city and canton. The declared aim of the lotteries was to mitigate nepotism and restore a balance of power in various areas of local social life, including politics, the guilds, the clergy, and the University. Our analysis focuses on the shifting role of the social networks of the elite families of the Baseler Daig. We will analyze the candidate pools of lotteries, the appointments that resulted, and the social relations that were forged in different spheres of social life: economic, political, religious, intellectual, and kinship. Our analysis will examine whether and how the introduction of lotteries was effective in dissolving the insider relations that pervaded the city at that time.