guilds or gilds, economic and social associations of persons engaging in the same business or craft, typical of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Membership was by profession or craft, and the primary function was to establish local control over that profession or craft by setting standards of workmanship and price, by protecting the business from competition, and by establishing status in society for members of the guild. In the Western world today the term guild is used for certain associations that have little connection with the medieval institution. Some of the great professional associations (e.g., in medicine and law) fulfill some of the functions of the old guilds but are rarely given that name.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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