Informations and abstract
This essay proposes a re-reading of the nature and role of public opinion between 1850 and 1914, beginning with Habermas' classic analysis and the debate which has developed around it during the last ten years. Relaunching a history of public opinion in the late 19th Centuy requires first of all a distinction between the normative and descriptive aspects of the concept of public opinion. It then examines the historic phenomena related to the concept, in terms of social practices rather than intellectual choises, and finally analyses the dynamics through which varied discourses, in varied times and contexts, are admitted within the public sphere. A perspective of this type is able to increase the heuristic value of the concept of public opinion in historical analysis, liberating it from use only in political history, extending it also to social history, and broadering the themes and sources to be taken into consideration.