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To entreat is to attempt to negotiate a treaty, as between warring parties, treating in this sense deriving from tractare, trahere , to handle, manage, draw, or drag. This combination of request and requirement is at work to some degree in all the acts in which I will be interested.

In , Jerrold M. I propose to refer to such acts of asking as petitionary actions. Less formally, one might say that petitionary actions occur when some kind of begging may be in operation. This is more than a matter of interest to students of pragmatics, or the study of linguistic use. In fact, human societies are built around a huge range of actions, structures and even institutions for the forming of petitionary actions and responses to them.

Petitionary acts belong to the category of performatives, the term introduced by J.

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Austin for those verbal utterances or expressions which perform an action, rather than, say, referring to an object or state of affairs. But they are a special kind of performative action, which is characterised as a kind of retracted action, an action that performs the act of retracting action. In this, petitionary acts are not one kind of speech act among others, but rather a special kind of exception to illocution, a speech-unact, or redaction of the act of acting in speech. They are a form of assertive yielding, a giving way Connor or, to use the term I have proposed for the large class of such withdrawing actions, abstitution.

Such had long been my use and wont. Begging need not be faint or mute, of course: indeed, it is often highly insistent or declamatory and always constitutes a demand: but it must always combine demand with the performance of incapacity, or anagential action. Petition is a paradoxical act.

Petition is a form of supplication which simultaneously emphasises the powerlessness of the supplicator and asserts a demand. Petition partakes of the same complication as the act of suing, in which the suer is in a condition of weakness, dependence or disadvantage, and yet brings forward a formal request. It therefore conjoins humility and demand. To maund came to mean to beg, and to maunder , probably under the influence of wander , to ramble idly or aimlessly, especially in speech, in the way ascribed to beggars.

It is more than curious that philosophers, anthropologists, psychoanalysts, theologians, economists and cultural historians should have devoted so much attention to the theory of the gift and practices of gift-giving and so little attention to the demand side of the transaction, the supplication of gift-supply in the petitionary practices that are designed to precipitate grace and favour.

Historians have occasionally turned their attention to the history of beggars, sometimes encouraged by what is regularly represented as the scandal of people reduced by oppression and systematic inequality to indigence. But such histories are at once insufficiently focussed and insufficently expansive. Begging and beggars are often understood as part of a larger picture involving vagrancy and the dynamics of social dissent and marginality.

Such histories tend to have little to say about the styles, experiences and practices of begging in its own terms, and take for granted that we know perfectly well what begging is, and need to understand its causes rather than what it does. On the other hand, seeing begging as part of the history of outsiders or marginal social groups massively misses the massive centrality of begging to human affairs.

In the medieval world, begging formed part of a culture of petition that operated at all levels of society.


Windeatt , Supplication may give way to application, but petition can be guaranteed never to be marginal in any human society. Human societies are bound together, it has sometimes been suggested, by debt. There is at least as strong a claim for the binding force of petition and favour. An expanded view quickly discloses how huge the range of petitionary practices is.

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All human beings are cognitively formed in the course of an enormously extended period of essentially helpless infancy, in which the only method of obtaining nutrition, care and the attention that is essential to survival is through practices of begging, practices that we should not be at all surprised to find represented widely among very many social animals. Thereafter, the practice of systematic begging is a feature in different ways of most human societies, traditional and modern.

The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.

Petition is powerfully at work in the act of prayer, practised as a matter of religious duty, regularly and unselfconsciously, by millions of humans past and present. At any one time more human beings worldwide will be engaged in petition of or devotion to an absent but all-providing being than in acts of procreation. This is not a marginal or eccentric occupation. Most societes have secularised systems of formal petition, addressed in approved ways to recognised authorities, meaning that petition also encompasses acts of legal appeal, supplication and what is still called suing.

Much of the play of sexual seeking, tender and granting is driven through variations of suit, supplication and favour.

The patriarchal division that has characterised almost every society we know of through human history reduces the female half of society that is denied the opportunity for productive work to the condition of sexual mendicant. The advertising industry has its roots in the supplicatory display of sexual opportunities, in which begging for custom represents itself as a display of charity.

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As the stylisation of imaginary desires and satisfactions, art and literature are driven by petitionary energies and investments. Before the rise of market relations in relation to art, all artists have subsisted in relations of patronage that depend upon begging, and artists remain the most skilful and inventive exponents of the arts of beggary, in order to maintain the demand for their pseudo-supply of unwanted goods.

Much of the time of those in senior positions in many professions, and in particular the educational and academic professions, will be taken up with the distribution of resources, in the form of grants and employment opportunities, through the administration of different sorts of application process, in which the fact of competition does little to conceal its essentially please-may-I-have petitionary nature. On the largest scale of all, human beings engage in prodigous acts of production that disguise the essential relation of parasitic dependency we have to the natural world.

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