Public Spaces, Knowledge, and Sociability

Brian Cowan

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199561216
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Public Spaces, Knowledge, and Sociability

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  • Social and Cultural History



The concept of sociability was introduced as an analytic term by the German sociologist Georg Simmel. Sociability has figured prominently in recent histories of consumer society and material cultures. It has become increasingly clear to historians and social theorists that the places where consumption took place, or where consumer desires were stimulated, and the social milieux in which consumers were located, are just as important to understand as the actual acts of consumption. The German sociologist Norbert Elias introduced Freudian insights into human psychology into a ‘processual’, or what is sometimes called a ‘figurational’, framework for his historical sociology. His works have had a major impact on the history of sociability and knowledge formation. The history of ‘civil society’ has been a major growth industry in the last few decades, and much of this work has developed under the rubric of explaining and exploring the rise of a ‘public sphere’ in early modern Europe. Unlike Elias, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas located the origins of modern sociability and civil society outside of the realm of court society.

Keywords: sociability; consumption; public sphere; knowledge; Georg Simmel; Norbert Elias; Jürgen Habermas; civil society; court society; consumer society

Article.  8150 words. 

Subjects: History ; Social and Cultural History

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