From Social Performance to Expressing the ‘True Self’: The Change in the Communicational Assumptions in Polish Letter-Writing Manuals from the Eighteenth and the Early Nineteenth Centuries in the Context of the Emergence of Modern Sincerity in the West


  • Agata Sikora Independent scholar



modernity, sincerity, Polish culture, letter-writing manuals


While the traditional model of verbal expression was founded on the premise that individuals should skilfully use conventions in order to achieve their goals, the modern approach, based on sincerity, assumes that people should problematise the truth about their own selves, and their utterances should be interpreted in relation to that truth. The article traces the emergence of the new concept of communication by analysing Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions and Julie, or the New Heloise, and Polish letter-writing manuals from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, putting emphasis on the premises of the new attitude (emergence of modern subjectivity, interpreting communication in referential rather than performative terms) and the wider socio-cultural context (emancipation of middle classes, transition from orality to literacy).

Author Biography

Agata Sikora, Independent scholar

Agata Sikora, PhD. She is an independent researcher and Polish cultural journalist based in London. A winner of a doctoral scholarship funded by National Science Centre (Poland), she completed her doctoral thesis at the University of Warsaw (Institute of Polish Culture), took part in a doctoral Erasmus exchange at the University of Amsterdam, paid a research visit at Queen Mary University of London (The Centre for History of Emotions). She has published the book Wolność, równość, przemoc. Czego nie chcemy sobie powiedzieć [Freedom, Equality, Power. What We Don’t Want to Tell to Each Other] (Wydawnictwo Karakter 2019), which was nominated for the Gdynia Literary Prize, and contributed to numerous Polish academic journals and collective volumes. Her book ‘Szczerość. O wyłanianiu się nowoczesnego porządku komunikacyjnego’ [Sincerity. On the Emergence of the Modern Communicational Regime] based on her PhD thesis will be published soon (Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego).