Introduction: Publics and Participation in Early Modern Britain

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JournalJournal of British Studies
DateAccepted/In press - 31 May 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 27 Sep 2017
DatePublished (current) - 27 Sep 2017
Issue number4
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)709-730
Early online date27/09/17
Original languageEnglish


The deconstruction of Jürgen Habermas’s “public sphere” has generated fresh thinking about political communication and participation. This article, which introduces the forum, explores a series of problems that continue to confront early modern scholars. Greater sensitivity to the unstable and ephemeral nature of “publics,” combined with a stronger awareness of the role of cultural exchange, has undoubtedly enriched early modern studies. Some analytical precision has, nonetheless, been lost. The dismantling of “the public sphere” as a unitary space has shifted attention towards networks and forms of association that were not contained by territorial borders, but at the expense of deeper consideration of the cultural and linguistic boundaries that dictated the terms on which people could participate in and shape public discourse. This article contends that study of the British archipelago offers new ways of thinking about these problems. Its patchwork of religious, political, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic affinities has been given limited consideration by scholars. By looking at responses to the consolidation of the English language, the role of national churches, and the rise of London as an international publishing hub, this article reassesses the associations between political communication, identity formation, and the state.

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