The introduction offers a survey of the milieu of German bourgeois modernists, and the changing historiographical assessments of their political importance. As part of the critique of classical accounts of modernization, historians have grown wary of ideal‐typical and teleological definitions of modernity, which treated the German case as an aberration or failure. The relatively unspectacular yet decisive role of bourgeois reformers in the transformation of German life in the decades around 1900 is becoming ever more visible as a result. Nevertheless, notions of a German Sonderweg endure in much of the more specialist literature on cultural reform, architecture, and design. This chapter makes the case for a synthetic new interpretation of the material aspects of bourgeois reformist activism, and outlines the impact of such an approach on our view of the formative phase of modern liberal governmentality.
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