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Liberalizing Contracts: Nineteenth Century promises through literature, law and history

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Rosenberg examines nineteenth-century liberalism, as developed through, and as it developed, the concept of contract, by placing canonical realist novels in conversation with contracts histories. Current understandings, it is argued, need reconstructing from both ends of Henry Maine’s famed “status to contract.” On the side of contract, histories have been oscillating between atomism and social-collective approaches, missing out on forms of relationality in Victorian liberal conceptualizations of contracts. On the side of status, the expectation of a move “from status” has led to a split along the liberal/radical fault line, which overlooks the possibility that liberalism functioned as a historical reinterpretation of status hierarchies – particularly gender and class – rather than either an effort of their elimination, or preservation.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Humanities Society talks series.

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