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How useful to eighteenth-century English studies is the paradigm of the 'bourgeois public sphere'?

Downie, Alan (J. A.). 2003. How useful to eighteenth-century English studies is the paradigm of the 'bourgeois public sphere'? Literature-Compass, 1(18C 02), pp. 1-18. [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Although Habermas conceives the bourgeois public sphere as theoretically inclusive, specific groups were clearly excluded from participation in eighteenth-century Britain. Assumptions about certain economic and social developments crucial to Habermas’s thesis, such as the increase in literacy, the growth of the reading public, the rise of a free press, and the up-turn in manufacturing and industry, are based on outdated secondary sources. This allows him both to antedate and to postdate key events by up to a century. Habermas’s unreconstructed Marxist interpretation of English history requires a bourgeois revolution to have taken place in the seventeenth century in which the old feudal order was swept away and replaced by capitalism. Yet the industrial bourgeoisie did not emerge by 1700, and English society continued to be dominated by the aristocracy. One of the most attractive features of Habermas’s bourgeois public sphere for literary critics and cultural historians is its insistence that critical debate in the public sphere took place without regard for rank, wealth or status. If, however, the notion that hierarchy was suspended in the period is unfounded, and Habermas’s paradigm of the bourgeois public sphere is conceptual rather than actual, its usefulness to students of the period must be debatable.

Item Type:

Article

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-4113.2004.00022.x

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature

Dates:

DateEvent
2003UNSPECIFIED

Item ID:

3724

Date Deposited:

30 Sep 2010 12:33

Last Modified:

23 Jun 2017 15:51

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/3724

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