UBC Theses and Dissertations
Habermas sans culottes LeBlanc, Ricahrd
In this thesis I formulate a critique of Habermas’s reading of the French Revolution in his book on the Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, in order to argue that the emergence of the public sphere of the French Revolution cannot be limited to written and oral speech, but that it also included material culture such as clothing and its symbolical weight in public debate, as in the case of the sans-culottes. The first part of my thesis explores Arendt’s understanding of the public sphere as a “space of appearance,” as it relates to material culture and to her allusion to the sans-culottes, to show the theoretical limitations of Habermas’s rationalistic insistence on oral and written speech. The second part analyzes Habermas’s treatement of clothing as a public manifestation in the Middle Ages, which leads to the third part where I examine how Habermas missed the importance of clothing in the public “space of appearance” of the French Revolution and how the sans-culottes exemplified the public significance of clothing. The fourth part takes the example of the sans-culottes’s red cap and argues that considering this republican piece of clothing of Roman origin reveals how, in light of Arendt, tradition and modernity stood right beside each other in the French Revolution, which corresponds to a historical reality avoided by Habermas due to his insistence on the modernity of the Enlightenment.
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