Thursday, January 18, 2007

Coffee Houses vs. Salons

The English coffee house of the 17th and 18th century had its counterpart in the cafés of the continental nations. Jürgen Habermas, though, makes the case that, as far as creating a public sphere for critical debate goes, the real counterpart of the coffee house was the French salon.

The coffee house was public, admitting all kinds. The coffee house was rough, smoky, competitive, and its menu had the "hogo of sirreverence." Few women went there. The salon was private, held in a house, admission by invitation only. Women were not only admitted, they controlled the invitations and the setting.

The advantage of the salon in creating a distinctive public sphere was that it included women and men. The advantage of the coffee house was that included a broader range of classes than any invitation-only group would have in that era.

Now, of course, coffee houses include both sexes and a fairly wide class range. The task is to create critical debate among so varied a group.

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