Madame Chats With Coquettes: The Evolution of Early Modern Theories of Conversation

Ward, Sean
October 2005
Seventeenth Century;Autumn2005, Vol. 20 Issue 2, p281
Academic Journal
If we converse with a bad person, won't we be infected with badness? In 1718 Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchess of Orléans, known at the French court as ‘Madame’, explains why she can converse with coquettes and gallant ladies without risk of infection. This papers draws on concepts introduced by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann to examine theories of conversation from 1610 to 1720 for evidence of a discursive evolution preceding Madame's explanation. The hypothesis is that theoretical innovations are selected for their complexity*hyphen;friendliness; that is, for their suitability to processing information in a society becoming increasingly complex as it shifts from primarily hierarchical to primarily functional differentiation. The evidence suggests that during the seventeenth century there is a trend away from proscribing conversations with bad people towards discursive variations similar to Madame's, variations that render plausible why it is acceptable (and safe) for good people to converse with bad people.


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