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date: 14 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The first section of this chapter introduces thinkers who have deeply influenced past and present understandings of roles and identity, such as Karl Marx, Thomas Carlyle, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and others and also discusses the impact of the social reform movements of the 1960s upon historians’ efforts to understand these issues. The second section of the chapter deals with hierarchy and role differentiation in the early modern period, especially with respect to gender, race, and noble status (or lack of it). It critically assesses claims about the ‘rise of the self’ in the early modern period and it also looks in greater depth at several representative early modern social roles. The final section of the chapter discusses the ways greater geographical mobility, growing literacy, the ‘consumer revolution’ and the rise of the fiscal–military state affected social roles and selfhood and individual identity, both prescriptively and in practice.

Keywords: Agency in history, Marxist theory, functionalist theories, history of the self, deconstruction, human rights, slavery, marriage, women, homosexuality

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