Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-Modern England

Overview

This innovative work of historical sociology locates the origins of modern democratic discourse in the emergent culture of printing in early modern England. For David Zaret, the key to the rise of a democratic public sphere was the impact of this culture of printing on the secrecy and privilege that shrouded political decisions in seventeenth-century England. Zaret explores the unanticipated liberating effects of printing and printed communication in transforming the world of political secrecy into a culture of ...

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Overview

This innovative work of historical sociology locates the origins of modern democratic discourse in the emergent culture of printing in early modern England. For David Zaret, the key to the rise of a democratic public sphere was the impact of this culture of printing on the secrecy and privilege that shrouded political decisions in seventeenth-century England. Zaret explores the unanticipated liberating effects of printing and printed communication in transforming the world of political secrecy into a culture of open discourse and eventually a politics of public opinion.

Contrary to those who locate the origins of the public sphere in the philosophical tracts of the French Enlightenment, Zaret claims that it originated as a practical accomplishment, propelled by economic and technical aspects of printing--in particular heightened commercialism and increased capacity to produce texts. Zaret writes that this accomplishment gained impetus when competing elites--Royalists and Parliamentarians, Presbyterians and Independents--used printed material to reach the masses, whose leaders in turn invoked the authority of public opinion to lobby those elites.

Zaret further shows how the earlier traditions of communication in England, from ballads and broadsides to inn and alehouse conversation, merged with the new culture of print to upset prevailing norms of secrecy and privilege. He points as well to the paradox for today's critics, who attribute the impoverishment of the public sphere to the very technological and economic forces that brought about the means of democratic discourse in the first place.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
In this thoughtful and innovative work of historical sociology, Zaret challenges the prevailing view that democratic discourse and the politics of public opinion emerged from the culture of the Enlightenment.
American Historical Review
Zaret has provocative and challenging things to say, and even those who disagree with his conclusion will find this a powerful work. . . . This book itself is full of telling evidential details, cited without fanfare, that cumulatively show how an unusually perceptive author can use such nuances to fine-tune our larger stories about the past. Both sociologists and historians can read it with immense profit.
— Adrian Johns
Times Literary Supplement
Origins of Democratic Culture is an invigorating, well-researched and powerfully argued book.
— Andrew Hadfield
Social Forces
David Zaret's Origins of Democratic Culture is an elegant, lucid, impeccably researched monograph that presents a cogent analysis of how a vibrant public sphere contributes to democratic practice. . . . [It] advances our understanding of how political cultures operate. It marks Zaret as one of the major cultural historical sociologists in contemporary American sociology and will be 'must' reading for scholars of democracy and culture from all social science disciplines as well as for graduate seminars in comparative historical social science.
— Mabel Berezin
Journal of Interdisciplinary History
This is a compelling interdisciplinary study that synthesizes recent historical scholarship on early modern politics and news culture with detailed archival research, and places its findings in a broad sociological perspective that offers a powerful corrective to prevailing conceptions of the origins, nature, and social composition of the early modern public sphere.
— Alastair Bellany
American Journal of Sociology
Historically well informed, lucidly and persuasively written, and making a skillful synthesis of the general and the particular, Zaret's book deserves to be widely read by historians and sociologists alike.
— Peter Burke
Contemporary Sociology
A major contribution the the substantive debate about the origins of the public sphere and democratic politics.
— Bryan S. Turner
European Review of History
[An] engaging and persuasive book. . . . Zaret argues that it was the explosion of printing in England during the 1640s which precipitated the crucial turning point in the origins of democratic culture.
— Adam Fox
American Historical Review - Adrian Johns
Zaret has provocative and challenging things to say, and even those who disagree with his conclusion will find this a powerful work. . . . This book itself is full of telling evidential details, cited without fanfare, that cumulatively show how an unusually perceptive author can use such nuances to fine-tune our larger stories about the past. Both sociologists and historians can read it with immense profit.
Times Literary Supplement - Andrew Hadfield
Origins of Democratic Culture is an invigorating, well-researched and powerfully argued book.
Social Forces - Mabel Berezin
David Zaret's Origins of Democratic Culture is an elegant, lucid, impeccably researched monograph that presents a cogent analysis of how a vibrant public sphere contributes to democratic practice. . . . [It] advances our understanding of how political cultures operate. It marks Zaret as one of the major cultural historical sociologists in contemporary American sociology and will be 'must' reading for scholars of democracy and culture from all social science disciplines as well as for graduate seminars in comparative historical social science.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History - Alastair Bellany
This is a compelling interdisciplinary study that synthesizes recent historical scholarship on early modern politics and news culture with detailed archival research, and places its findings in a broad sociological perspective that offers a powerful corrective to prevailing conceptions of the origins, nature, and social composition of the early modern public sphere.
American Journal of Sociology - Peter Burke
Historically well informed, lucidly and persuasively written, and making a skillful synthesis of the general and the particular, Zaret's book deserves to be widely read by historians and sociologists alike.
Contemporary Sociology - Bryan S. Turner
A major contribution the the substantive debate about the origins of the public sphere and democratic politics.
European Review of History - Adam Fox
[An] engaging and persuasive book. . . . Zaret argues that it was the explosion of printing in England during the 1640s which precipitated the crucial turning point in the origins of democratic culture.
From the Publisher

"In this thoughtful and innovative work of historical sociology, Zaret challenges the prevailing view that democratic discourse and the politics of public opinion emerged from the culture of the Enlightenment."--Choice

"Zaret has provocative and challenging things to say, and even those who disagree with his conclusion will find this a powerful work. . . . This book itself is full of telling evidential details, cited without fanfare, that cumulatively show how an unusually perceptive author can use such nuances to fine-tune our larger stories about the past. Both sociologists and historians can read it with immense profit."--Adrian Johns, American Historical Review

"Origins of Democratic Culture is an invigorating, well-researched and powerfully argued book."--Andrew Hadfield, Times Literary Supplement

"David Zaret's Origins of Democratic Culture is an elegant, lucid, impeccably researched monograph that presents a cogent analysis of how a vibrant public sphere contributes to democratic practice. . . . [It] advances our understanding of how political cultures operate. It marks Zaret as one of the major cultural historical sociologists in contemporary American sociology and will be 'must' reading for scholars of democracy and culture from all social science disciplines as well as for graduate seminars in comparative historical social science."--Mabel Berezin, Social Forces

"This is a compelling interdisciplinary study that synthesizes recent historical scholarship on early modern politics and news culture with detailed archival research, and places its findings in a broad sociological perspective that offers a powerful corrective to prevailing conceptions of the origins, nature, and social composition of the early modern public sphere."--Alastair Bellany, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Historically well informed, lucidly and persuasively written, and making a skillful synthesis of the general and the particular, Zaret's book deserves to be widely read by historians and sociologists alike."--Peter Burke, American Journal of Sociology

"A major contribution the the substantive debate about the origins of the public sphere and democratic politics."--Bryan S. Turner, Contemporary Sociology

"[An] engaging and persuasive book. . . . Zaret argues that it was the explosion of printing in England during the 1640s which precipitated the crucial turning point in the origins of democratic culture."--Adam Fox, European Review of History

Times Literary Supplement
Origins of Democratic Culture is an invigorating, well-researched and powerfully argued book.
— Andrew Hadfield
Social Forces
David Zaret's Origins of Democratic Culture is an elegant, lucid, impeccably researched monograph that presents a cogent analysis of how a vibrant public sphere contributes to democratic practice. . . . [It] advances our understanding of how political cultures operate. It marks Zaret as one of the major cultural historical sociologists in contemporary American sociology and will be 'must' reading for scholars of democracy and culture from all social science disciplines as well as for graduate seminars in comparative historical social science.
— Mabel Berezin
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Product Details

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviations xiii
Chapter One Introduction 3
Chapter Two Theory and History 18
Theories of the Early Public Sphere 21
Historical Revisionism 35
The Paradox of Innovation 39
Chapter Three Secrecy and Privilege 44
Principle 50
Contradictions between Secrecy Norms and Political Practice 61
Chapter Four Traditional Communicative Practice 68
Center to Periphery 69
Periphery to Center 75
Grievances and Petitions 81
Chapter Five News 100
Oral News: Rumors and Ballads 109
Scribal News 110
Chapter Six Printing and the Culture of Print 133
Presses and Printers 134
Legal and Political Issues 140
Authors and Sellers 145
Popular Literacy and Reading 150
Illicit Books 159
Appeals to Public Opinion in Religion to 1640 165
Chapter Seven Printing and Politics in the 1640s 174
Imposition of Dialogic Order on Conflict 176
Printed News 184
Printed Political Texts 197
Invoking Public Opinion 209
Chapter Eight Petitions 217
Petitions as Political Propaganda 221
Petitions as Indicators of Opinion in the Periphery 231
Petitions and Printing 240
The Paradox of Innovation in Petitioning 254
The Authority of Opinion 257
Toward Liberal Democracy 262
Chapter Nine Epilogue 266
Deism, Science, and Opinion 270
Contemporary Implications 275
Index 281
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