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More in this section Richard Alstonpages

The Individual in Society

Self and Society in an Imperial Age

This project developed from an interest in Latin literature of the mid to late first century CE and in particular an interest in Tacitus and Pliny the Younger. Working with Efi Spentzou, we found that the prose authors of this period shared much in common with the poets. Thinking across genres, authors seemed insecure of their place in the Roman world, alienated, and possessed of violent imaginaries that suggested to us at least a world in crisis. Individuals questioned their traditions, their politics, their gender roles, their place in society. In our book, Reflections of Romanity, we deployed a wide range of theoretical interlocutors, drawn from philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, in exploration of the parallels between the crisis of modernity and the crisis of Roman antiquity. Its a daring book and we argue firmly for a new way of understanding the relationship between the modern and the Classical. 

Alongside publication of the book, I have been drawn into issues of society and memory, and have in particular worked on Lucan and notions of historicity, and the notions of history, imperialism (and the city) and power in Tacitus. 

The interest in the relations between individuals, social formations and ideologies has underpinned my interest in slavery, in which I have argued that the ancient literature on slavery and social power reflects, but ultimately fails to acknowledge that slavery was embedded in and a causative factor of extreme violence in Classical societies, and that theories of freedom and slavery, while closely linked, are justificatory of systems of exploitation, ancient and modern, which tend to dehumanise the relationships of exploitation (making them facts of nature rather than instruments of social control).

I have more recently been engaged in looking at the link between the emergence of Augustan imperialism and relations of family and gender, thinking in particular about the way in which family and gender are formed as ideological and social phenomena. 


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