The early modern period has been seen as a key stage in the formation of modernity, with, arguably, both a democratic culture and a public sphere formed in this period. My research intends to explore the relationship between democracy, dialogue and debate through an analysis of the dialogue genre.
What is a dialogue?
The dialogue genre was a popular literary form in the early modern period, with over 1,500 dialogues published in the seventeenth century and it consisted of a written conversation between two, or more, people. As a form it was used extensively by a variety of people including Galileo, Thomas Hobbes, Robert L'estrange and John Bunyan. Dialogues were written on a wide variety of subjects such as theological controversies, political debates, news discussions, fishing and romantic ballads.
Why study dialogues?
The dialogue genre as a whole has been neglected by early modern scholars, with very little published work on them. My study will contribute to resurrecting the forgotten voices of the dialogue writers to address this gap in scholarship. However, my research will not simply just recover the lost voices of the dialogue genre but it will view dialogues as participants of a broader social, intellectual and commercial nexus with the capability of shedding new light upon popular literary forms and common opinion. This approach is necessary due to the nature of the dialogue, as the dialogue genre was a hybrid form that appropriated and wove itself amongst other genres of writing. The incorporation of multiple genres within a dialogue makes a study of dialogues a useful point to bring together and synthesise scholarship on other popular literary forms. This fusion will allow me to interrogate the influence of popular culture on the public sphere and a democratic culture through the lens of the dialogue genre. Further, dialogues are also worth studying because they are a representation of social exchange, debate and discussion. By looking at them it can help us to understand the nature of communication in the early modern period, and the way in which debate and discussion was represented and perceived to have been conducted.
How will you study dialogues?
Dialogues sit on the cusp of multiple other genres in order to study them it requires an interdisciplinary approach. Having identified and catalogued the dialogues published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries my research seeks to bring together the following interpretative frameworks and methodologies to study them:
- Bakhtin's dialogism and intertextuality
- Corpus linguistics, text-mining and discourse analysis
- Skinner and Pocock's historical contextualism
- Ricoeur and Bourdieu's hermeneutics
The dialogues will be studied in relation to the scholarship on the following:
- Pamphlets, newspapers and print culture
- Ballads, songs, and popular culture
- Anonymity, authorship and readership
- Language and social exchange
- Public opinion and the public sphere
- Politics, literature and ideas
- Politeness, civility and oral culture
What does the study of dialogues aim to achieve?
A closer scrutiny of the dialogue form and its rhetorical role in this period will contribute to a greater understanding of how debate and controversy were structured, mediated and created and provide a perspective from which to inspect changing attitudes to novelty and tradition. The significance of this is that it will explore the extent to which the dialogue genre contributed to the formation of a democratic culture and public sphere in the early modern period. This will be evaluated in conjunction with looking at the way in which the term 'democracy' was used during this period to understand how democracy was conceptualised and understood in the Early Modern Period.
m dot j dot knights at warwick dot ac dot uk