Emotional and social communities: historical perspectives from the 18th century to the present day

David Do Paço's picture
March 13, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Contemporary History, Cultural History / Studies, Early Modern History and Period Studies, Modern European History / Studies, Social History / Studies

Venue: salle du traité, Centre d'Histoire de Sciences Po, 56 rue Jacob, Paris 75006

Over the two last decades, the relations between social history and the history of emotions have been strongly reexamined. To a classical approach that considered emotional communities as the reflect of social classes, groups, or circles, responded a cultural approach exploring the transversal dimension of emotional community. 

History of emotions has progressively moved its focus away from the institutions to explore the actors’ ability to navigate between the moral, religious and political constraints put on their emotions. If studies on emotionology particularly insisted on the institutional control of communities in the way their members privately and publicly expressed their basic emotions – and in defining acceptable and unacceptable emotions – as a form of social control, William Reddy invites to consider the normative order for emotions established by political regimes as a more or less strict system. Indeed, ‘emotional regimes’ can cope with deviant emotions and even absorb such deviance in creating space, time and opportunity to catalyze emotives in appropriate ‘emotional refuges’, a seclude private or secret social area. By definition, emotional regimes need to let a room open for useful deviance. In a same political area, emotives are usually part to different completing, overlapping or conflicting emotional regimes to which they adapt, struggle or play with.

Doing so history of emotions progressively meets social history. According to Barbara Rosenwein, an emotional community is ‘a system of feeling’ based on a ‘social community’, i.e. a relational group of people sharing the same economic, social, political interests. This community could be socially diverse and was not exclusive. An individual could also belong to several emotional communities, based on the different moments of her/is life, and the different interests s/he defended when s/he performed her/is emotions. This multiple communities would gradually overlap: household, family, neighborhood/parish, association, club, city, nation etc. Such communities do not necessarily complete each other. They can strongly compete and clash, and the dynamic aspect of emotions that can only be properly understand in the specific context within which they were expressed. Doing so, historians can, and have to comprehend and appropriate the field of emotions in a permanent discussion with psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists. Belonging to several emotional communities can generate political issues. It can, at some point, undermine an emotional regime. It also participates to a dynamic dominant norm that allowscertain emotional practices and adaptations, while banning others and thus creating some emotional suffering. It is a central dimension of the permanent reconfiguration of emotional regimes.

Focusing on emotives, Reddy’s work actually invites social historians to engage even more with history of emotions. Microhistory – which is today the dominant methodology for global historians – refutes given-social categories and aims to identify the different circles of belonging of historical actors from the process of social bonding in which they engaged. Individuals belonged to several more or less official relational communities at a same time. While operating, at least from the early modern period, in a global world of which social, cultural, religious and linguistic bonds were more and more diverse, they developed strategies of emotional coexistence that at some point totally challenged religious and cultural narratives about the allegedly ‘clash of civilizations’, and our own academic fields based on regional areas. Both, the commensurability and incommensurability of emotions/emotionology/emotional regimes can be explored in many different historical topics from the social bonding in war zone to daily economic interactions, from urban catastrophes to history of immigration, etc.

In this workshop, we have invited scholars to:

- Reinvestigate social relationships through the prism provided by the history of emotions;

- Question the religious and cultural divisions of the world from the perspective of emotions studies in a crosscultural and/or interreligious context;

- Focus on and emphasize the multiple emotional communities to which an individual can possibly belong in a given crisis context, and analyze the different possible combinations of these emotional/social circles;

- Address the issue of integrating the history of emotions in the methodology of (global) microhistory.


Welcome and introduction, 9h-9h15


Panel 1: News and New Emotions, 9h15-10h45

Maria Ferenc | University of Warsaw: “Warsaw Jews facing news about the Holocaust”.

Paul-Arthur Tortosa | European University Institute in Florence et Université de Strasbourg: “Fears of an epidemic or epidemic of fear”.


Coffee break, 10h45-11h


Panel 2: Emotion, Social Norms and Childhood, 11h-13h

Monika Baár | Leiden University ERC-funded project Rethinking Disability: “Disabling Emotions and Emotionalizing Disability”.

Mary Hatfield | University College Dublin: “The Happy Irish Child: Emotion as a Tool for Medical and Educational Assessment in Nineteenth Century Ireland”.

Elena Rizzi | European University Institute: “L’art à l’école. Painting Mural Decorations in Parisian Schools in the 1930s: Images between Political and Emotional Communities”.


Lunch, 13h-14h15


Panel 3: Silent emotions, 14h15-15h45

Karsten Lichau | Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin: “How to feel silence? Learning political emotions in the history of the minute’s silence”.

Eleni Braat | Utrecht University: “Secret emotional communities. Dividing and uniting loyalty in Dutch and Greek intelligence communities, 1960s-2000”.


Coffee break, 15h45-16h


Panel 4: Emotions and Families, 16h-18h

Britta McEwen | Creighton University, Omaha: “Shame, Sympathy, and the Single Mother in Vienna, 1880-1930”.

Nisrine Rahal | University of Toronto: “Love is Political: The Ideal of Love During the Revolutionary 1840s in the German Confederation”.

Maria Adamopoulou | European University Institute in Florence: “Getting emotional, but for different reasons: tracing feelings in the testimonies of Greek guest workers in West Germany (1960-1989)”.


18h Conclusions



Contact Info: 

asst. prof. David Do Paço, Centre d'Histoire de Sciences Po, Sciences  Po (Paris, France): david.dopaco@sciencespo.fr

prof. Guillaume Piketty, Centre d'Histoire de Sciences Po, Sciences  Po (Paris, France): guillaume.piketty@sciencespo.fr