[Report] 9th EAIHN Online Seminar


February 8th (Tue), 2022. 7pm – 9pm (JST)

Annick Cossic (Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest, France)
Emrys Jones (King’s College London, UK)
“Discussing The Representation and Reinvention of Sociable Spaces in the Long Eighteenth Century (Paris: Le Manuscrit, 2021)”


Rémy Duthille (Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France)

Hiroki Ueno (Keio University, Japan)


On 8th February 2022, the East Asian Intellectual History Network (EAIHN) hosted a talk by Annick Cossic (Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest, France) and Emrys Jones (King’s College London), who presented the recently published book La Représentation et la reinvention des espaces de sociabilité au cours du long XVIIIe siècle (“The Representation and Reinvention of Sociable Spaces in the Long Eighteenth Century (Paris: Le Manuscrit, 2021)”).

After opening remarks by the chair, Prof. Cossic, then Dr Jones presented the collection of essays and discussed its main features and results. Their talk was followed by a discussant’s comments and questions, the presenters’ response to them, and a lively discussion among the conference participants. The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Prof. Cossic presented the book series Transversales, which has run to 7 volumes to date, with an eighth volume in preparation. It stemmed from a regional research programme on eighteenth-century sociability, which progressively opened up to scholars from many European countries (including Germany, Poland and Italy) and obtained EU funding. The peer-review process, the multidisciplinary aspect embedded in all volumes, and the increasing breadth of the international network of specialists, all ensure the highest level of expertise. Prof. Cossic also presented the “Sociable Spaces conference” which took place in Brest in 2019, which stemmed from this EU-funded programme on sociability and yielded scientific results that were partly published in La Représentation et la reinvention des espaces de sociabilité.

The book relies on notions of dynamic space and fixed place, a dialectic found in French theorists De Certeau and Deleuze (but questioned by some papers in the book). On that theoretical basis, the book examines the sociable identities constructed by, and performed in, sociable spaces such as theatres, public houses, coffeehouses, private houses, etc., meshing individual and collective dimensions. The eighteenth century, especially in Britain, was a period of reinvention of sociability, an aesthetic of novelty and the ideal of an open society pervading the influential cultural programme of Addison, Steele and other commentators. The book also discusses the ways in which new forms of sociability addressed class and gender, asking to what extent they opened up emancipatory vistas or reproduced and reinvented disciplinary structures.

Dr Emrys Jones proceeded to summarize the general findings, reviewing each chapter in turn. He warned in his introduction that there is no single, unified thesis to the book, and that sociable spaces were shot through with irony and contradictions. This was a way of announcing the variety of matters and treatments that render the book difficult to summarize but exciting. The different chapters comprise, among other topics, analyses of theatricality and performativity at the court in Versailles, in private (but in fact semi-public) theatres in England, and in the ritual of the levée, a much criticized but favourite practice in eighteenth-century London. A section on leisure practices insists on the re-creation of sociable places, and their negotiation by various social groups. Masonic sociability and homosocial spaces in Brighton raise issues of gender, while transactional forms of sociability at home gave some agency to élite women performing strategies to assert their identity. Other discussions bear on walking and spa sociability, which involved new practices born of the expansion of leisure time in urban centres. The third part of the book examined “transgressive sociable places: models and counter-models”, in particular utopia as a space for the elaboration of counter-models of gender and class relations.

The presentation was extremely well prepared (underpinned by lively, efficient PowerPoint presentations) and the discussion energetic. Questions and remarks pertained, among other topics, to the possibility of real (non-utopian) spaces of counter-sociability, the Rousseauvian critique of alienating sociability, and aspects of perceptions of national models, including remarks on Adam Smith and sociability in Southern France.


Reported by Rémy Duthille (Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France)