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    The invention of the social? Debating the scope of politics in the Greek polis from the later Classical to the early Roman period

    Gray, Benjamin (2022) The invention of the social? Debating the scope of politics in the Greek polis from the later Classical to the early Roman period. Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 77 (4), pp. 633-671. ISSN 0395-2649.

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    This paper applies to ancient Greece an approach to modern political thinking developed by P. Rosanvallon: the integration of philosophical texts with the most everyday documents to better grasp a society’s understanding of its political life. For ancient Greece the more everyday evidence of cities’ inscriptions, especially their collective decisions published on stone, can help to modify our understanding of Greek political thinking. The paper focusses on the example of changing ideas about the nature of political and private life – and especially the space between them – in the Greek cities of the Roman period. In an approach very influential on modern political theory and interpretations of ancient Greek society, Classical Athenian democrats and philosophers had tended to insist on a sharp binary distinction between public or political life, on the one hand, and private life, on the other. This left little space for a notion of an intermediate third space of polis life, similar to a ‘social sphere’ or ‘civil society’, in which public and private interactions and motivations were thoroughly intermingled. This pattern remained dominant in the Hellenistic and Roman period, but, after the Roman conquest, certain Greek citizens and intellectuals developed, above all in inscriptions, a much more explicit, complex and subtle notion of ‘social life’ between politics and private life, sometimes describing it with new words such as synanastrophe and symbiosis. The paper concludes by asking what the different ancient concepts and interpretations discussed here can contribute to current historiographical debates about the nature of the Greek city after c. 146 BC, especially about how to move beyond the traditional picture of ‘depoliticisation’ now that recent studies have shown the continued vibrancy of civic political institutions and debates. The conclusion also calls into question the orthodox narrative of the development of ideas of ‘the social’ or ‘civil society’ over many centuries up to the modern age.


    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: Translated by Antoine Heudre
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Benjamin Gray
    Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2022 12:29
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:17


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