A parcel of muddling muckworms’: revisiting Habermas and the Early Modern English coffee-houses
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In the context of a research project concerned with contemporary cafés, one in which coffee-shops have loomed large, it has been appropriate to revisit Habermas’s famous 1962/1989 work on the transformation of the ‘public sphere’, wherein the figure of the Early Modern English coffeehouse holds considerable significance. The outlines of Habermas’s claims are inspected, and three lines of critique – to do with spatiality, sociability and practices – are held up against his depiction of coffee-houses as relatively contained and egalitarian spaces of calm rational-critical debate. Theoretical work is combined with a re-reading of Habermas’s own fragmentary notes on the coffee-house, together with some borrowings from both secondary texts and republished primary sources. The chief aim is to develop critical materials to inform further inquiry into coffee-houses and similar establishments, past and present, as sites for the practical conduct of public life.