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Company and Sociability in Early Modern England

Phil Withington
Social History
Vol. 32, No. 3 (Aug., 2007), pp. 291-307
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4287452
Page Count: 17
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Company and Sociability in Early Modern England
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Abstract

This article emerged out of a larger project on intoxicants and intoxication in early modern England. In the course of researching the subject of drinking it became apparent that, while historians have done much to recover the social structures and social relationships of early modern England, the subject of sociability remains relatively ignored. The article addresses this neglect by developing a conceptual framework in which to place and analyse moments of social interaction like drinking, and by identifying a body of evidence that enables a degree of ethnographic analysis of such interactions. The framework is suggested by the early modern concept of company -- a term used by contemporaries to describe sociability that ranged from corporate institutions (as frequented by guildsmen, theatrical players or soldiers) to ritualized encounters (such as drinking sessions and 'making merry') to transient instances of conversation. The evidence consists of the depositional records of the church courts -- witness statements that are often rich in social observation, and which are especially useful for unpacking the meanings and politics of company. The article provides an overview of the concept of company; suggests some of the issues that a history of company raises; and concludes by considering its defining (and most elusive) dynamic: the relationship between agency and structure.

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