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Making the Self: Narratives and Representations of the Modern Subject Between Individuality and Collectivity, seventeenth to nineteenth centuries

Sponsored by MINECO, HAR2014-53802-P

Principal researcher: Mónica Bolufer Peruga


This project aims to explore processes of construction of the modern self, between the personal and the collective, with a particular focus on the agency of historical subjects. It draws on most recent pathbreaking conceptual and methodological contributions in History and other disciplines (Literature, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology) on identity as a multilayered analytical category involving both, that which is socially attributed, and intimately lived through; body and mind; experience and language, reason and emotion; what is natural, and what is socially changing, the local and the global.

            We will study the configuration of the individual self in relation, tension, and negotiation with collective identities (gender, territorial, estates, corporative, family, intellectual, ideological, religious, and political). Since we believe the relation between structure and agency is dynamic, we will approach the contexts, not as static scenarios, but rather as a changing, and meaningful cultural space-time constructions also constitutive of the individual’s discourses and identity. In this same vein, we are interested in the role of emotions as lived and performed, as well as in the uses of memory.   

            Within a chronological framework that runs from the 17th up to the 19th centuries and with a particular focus on the Hispanic peninsula area from a diverse comparative European (France, England, Italy), Mediterranean, and colonial perspective our concrete goals are:

1.- The analysis of identity within the aristocratic and popular world, as well as of memory workings in the construction and negotiation of personal identities within the corporative, familiar, professional, and religious framework of the Old Regime: noble strategies, associations of blind people, the role of collective History, and of individual memory in processes of national construction.

2.- The rise of the “intellectual” between the Enlightenment and the Restoration, with a special biographical focus that looks particularly at the flexible and mutual interplay between social definition and self-reflection, with gender difference at its heart.

3.- The construction of masculine and feminine subjectivities in the changing framework of intellectual, religious, and emotional legacies from the 17th through the 18th centuries (writings of the self and of the selves (either male or female) in the conventual and religious world, the making of emotions and identities through moral, educative, and fiction literature and painting, the shaping of the ideal of the civilized and self contained subject.

4.- The making of modern female identities throughout the nineteenth century at the heart of rising Liberal political cultures of the time, as well as of traditions forging modern individualism.

5.- The study of unlikely or fragmentary biographies, minimal testimonies of those subjects whose real lives are difficult to approach (hagiographies, gallows literature, captives’ letters)

6.- The analysis of body experiences and narratives in beatification/canonization processes, as well as explorations in the “ill self” through the understanding of patients testimonies.

            Our methodological proposal is to approach our research from individual studies that question too clear-cut divisions between social, political, and cultural histories; between public and private; between the individual and society; between the singular and the general. 


Keywords: Self-identity-experience-narrative-biography-memory-emotions-modernity-cultural history-social history


IP, Mónica Bolufer Peruga (Universitat de València)