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Constructing the self and constructing the civic in provincial urban England
chapterposted on 07.05.2015, 09:25 by Rosemary Sweet
[From first paragraph] The early modern period, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in particular, have frequently been associated with the emergence of a stronger sense of individualism in British society. The growth of a capitalist economy, the influence of Protestantism, with its emphasis on a personal relationship with God and spiritual introspection, and the impact of Lockean models of understanding human consciousness, have all been associated with a stronger sense of individual subject-hood and a relative decline in group or collective identities.1 One of the manifestations of this emergent sense of individualism in Britain, it has been argued, is the proliferation of ego-documents. The huge expansion in personal diaries, memoirs and autobiographies which can be traced from the seventeenth century onwards cannot be accounted for by higher literacy rates alone. More opportunity, there may have been, but the genre of autobiographical writing is a powerful testimony to the stronger sense of individualism; moreover, in the process of writing an autobiography a stronger sense of personal identity was constituted. The agency of the self as author, suggests Mascuch, becomes the agency of the self as actor.2