When a Club Turns into a Public Event: The Structural Transformation of the British Parliament and the Making of Collective Solidarity

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Much of the scholarship on the modern public sphere has, following Habermas, focused on arenas of sociability detached from state authority. However, little attention has been given to the ways in which patterns of sociability intrinsic to political institutions facilitated the rise of civil society and a sense of nationhood. This article unpacks various structural dimensions of collective solidarity from the perspective of sociability and publicity by drawing on a key political institution: the state parliament. By exploring the interrelations between the British parliament and the media from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, the article discusses how parliament aristocratic culture corresponded to a club model structured along horizontal, interpersonal networks but increasingly incorporated qualities of a centralized public event. Shifts in media practices were accompanied by changes in the ways that political actors interacted among themselves and with their audiences. Drawing on the concept of “public intimacy,” namely, the staging of exclusive ties in front of a third party, the article delineates a structural transition in parliament culture from mechanisms of “clubby” public intimacy, which relied on patrician orality and sacred rituals, to “mediated” public intimacy, which was shaped by the institutionalization of gossip journalism. It is suggested that a similar combination of club exclusivity and public event has come to characterize subsequent civic institutions as well as social media. This dual structure helped shape feelings of solidarity as a continuum between personal and collective ties, casting the mass public as a network of confidants and friends.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)881-892
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Aristocracy
  • British Parliament
  • Eighteenth century
  • Gossip
  • Politics of friendship
  • Sociability


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