Interdisciplinary Seminar 2024-26 'The Politics of the Sociable Self: Theories and Practices (1650-1850)'


The Politics of the ‘Sociable Self’: Theories and Practices (1650-1850)


The aim of this interdisciplinary seminar is (1) to explore the formation and evolution of the concept of a ‘sociable self’ during the long eighteenth century (1650-1850); (2) to historicize theories of sociability by grounding them in social practices so as to understand their mutual influence; (3) to examine the role of sociability in the definition of social bonds and civic practices (sense of belonging, social attachment, national affection, public engagement); (4) to explore how these concepts and practices were subject to debate, contest and change.



The first textual appearances of the terms ‘social’ and ‘sociable’ (1604) did not convey separate meanings, and only in the second half of the eighteenth century do we see attempts at singling out ‘sociability’ as a concept in itself. The seminar series will investigate the changing meaning and theorisation of the ‘sociable’ self in various discourses (political and moral philosophy, anthropology, medical science, economic theory …). It will also explore the dissemination of these meanings and theories as well as attempts to put them into practice in different contexts and through different means, such as journalism, clubbing, debating societies, fiction writing, travel writing, and life writing. We will seek to identify key moments and events that triggered changes in how the sociable-self was conceived of and put into practice.

The seminar series will also examine the broadening of the meaning of sociability from referring to a personal trait (‘fellowlike’, ‘friendly’) and a natural inclination (to ‘keep company’) to referring to mutually beneficial social interactions and a desire to forge the ‘general interest’. To what extent does the theory of the ‘sociable self’ provide a new perspective to understand the tensions at work between the motives and aspirations of the individual and the constraints and interests of the social group. The coinage of the ‘sociable self’ not only underscores the social performance of individuals and groups but also highlights the birth of modern political and economic societies, the formation of nations and the advent of democracy.

Thinking about the politics of the ‘sociable self’ will also raise questions about the centrality of sociability in Enlightenment culture, the representation of solitude as an ‘unsociable’ characteristic, the conception of human nature in its relation with the natural world, the shaping of national identities (inclusion / exclusion), the construction of gendered selves, and the embodied, material and emotional aspects of the interpersonal constitution of ‘sociable selves’. Indeed, the image and performance of the ‘sociable self’ gradually became entangled with the body and the expression of feelings and emotions (pleasure, pain, relief …), also raising new issues related to gender and sexuality (queerness, masquerade, disguise …).

The COVID pandemic heightened our awareness of the need for social interactions and social bonds, especially among young and elderly people. The renewal of academic interest in theories of social attachment attests to the ongoing relevance of this important topic. Moreover, the predominant culture of ‘the self’ in our contemporary societies is inevitably affecting how we imagine and maintain sociability. To what extent does this culture of ‘the self’ find its roots in the taste for social performance and the quest for celebrity that emerged in the long eighteenth century? In what ways does it contribute to reshaping our modes of interaction and the very definition and representation of our mutual connections?


Brainstorming sessions on secondary and primary sources

* The first session is organised in Paris on June 7, 2024, from 17:00 to 19:00. It will take place at Université Paris Cité, Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges, 8, Place Paul-Ricoeur, Paris (room 830). From 16:30, Camille Payeur (UQAM), laureate of the GIS Sociabilités Master's Thesis Prize 2023, will present her research and will officially receive her award.

The session will focus on secondary sources which address the construction of selfhood and socialness in the long eighteenth century. You can download below the PDF versions of the chapters and articles under scrutiny. Our discussions will focus on the four aspects identified in the above description of the seminar: (1) formation of the concept of 'sociable self'; (2) mutual influence theories / practices; (3) definition and structuration of social bonds; (4) debates and evolution of concept.

A zoom link will be provided one week before the session. Members are asked to confirm their presence by sending a message to

On the self:

  • Dror Wahrman, ‘Before the Self: The Ancien Régime of Identity and the Revolution’, in The Making of the Modern Self. Identity and Culture in Eighteenth Century England, Yale University Press, 2006. PDF version.


On the sociable self:

  • Larry F. Norman, ‘Modern Identity and The Sociable Self in The Late Seventeenth Century’, Nottingham French Studies, Vol. 47, No.3, Autumn 2008, p. 34-44. PDF version.
  • Paul Sagar, ‘Introduction’, ‘Chapter 1: Sociability’, in The Opinion of Mankind. Sociability and the Theory of the State from Hobbes to Smith, Princeton University Press, 2018. PDF version.
  • Phil Withington, ‘The Sociable Self’, Society in Early Modern England, Polity Press, 2010. PDF version.