Singing communities. Politics of feeling in songs of the Dutch revolutionary period (1780-1815)

Gelijkgestemden? Gevoelspolitiek in liederen van het Nederlandse revolutietijdvak (1780-1815)
Start - End 
2017 - 2021 (ongoing)
Department of Literary Studies
Other institution(s) 
Kingston School of Art, Department of Performing Arts



Singing Communities investigated how people engaged through song and singing in political communities of the Dutch revolutionary period. These revolutionary years at the end of the eighteenth century were a period of great political and social instability for the (northern) Netherlands. The old dispute between supporters and adversaries of the stadtholderate flared up again: the republicans positioned themselves as Patriots opposed to the Orangists, an opposition that led to a brief civil war in 1787. The stadtholder was able to affirm his position with the help of Prussia, and many Patriots had to flee into exile. In 1795, he had to abandon his post again, when the Patriots brought about the Batavian Revolution aided by the French. The young Batavian Republic, however, soon fell prey to Napoleon’s politics of expansion. Eventually, this enabled the stadtholder’s son to return in 1813 as king of the Netherlands. In such a turbulent period, the song culture that was so deeply anchored in Dutch everyday life offered people a way to identify with and participate in collectives that could develop into communities engaging with the political developments of that time.

To shape my investigation into the politics of feeling that come forward in the song culture of this period, I have developed a theoretical and methodological framework that acknowledges the performative nature of song, and the imagined as well as embodied aspects of singing practices. The core chapters are centred around the three central ways in which communities could be shaped in and through song: mobilisation, imagination, and affirmation. These were all dependent on the manipulation of feelings. I have distinguished various emotional regimes and pointed out how their politics of feeling took shape in song and singing practices. Song was used to disseminate ideologies, and singing practices were employed to mobilise people’s bodies to engage with political developments. Such mobilisation was essential to make imagined feelings available to the felt, embodied experience. Patriots and Orangists encouraged their mutual hatred in many mocking songs, a hatred that eventually led to an armed conflict. At the same time, mobilisation was also dependent on imagination. For example, the imagining of realities that might be worth mobilising for—in song, a Dutch republic without a stadtholder could be imagined. The imagination was also essential for the imagined continuation of previously embodied communities, as it was between 1787 and 1795 for the Patriots in exile. Both the imagined and embodied forms of community played a role in affirming new regimes after yet another political shift, as becomes evident in the many national festivals after 1795 or the festive welcome for Willem Frederik in 1813. Affirmation can thus be understood as the reinforcement of the communities which had been achieved through imagination and mobilisation. Whereas songs were at first used to polarise, they were eventually also employed to reinforce a narrative of reconciliation that had to erase all disputes of the foregoing revolutionary period.

Despite the many political shifts that occurred throughout the revolutionary period, I have also been able to distinguish patterns of repetition. Throughout the political song repertoire of the Dutch revolutionary period, the same tropes, tunes, and singing practices were employed over and over again. Although the specific significations of such tropes, tunes and practices changed, they were continuously used for the same goal: to bring people together in a singing community. It turns out that, to build and maintain sustainable communities, it was essential to create continuity in and of practice. The affective economy of Dutch politics—regardless of whether this was a Patriot, Orangist, Batavian, or otherwise ideologically motivated politics—relied on a fixed repertoire of feelings that was used throughout the Dutch revolutionary period to mobilise, imagine, and affirm communities within the current political regime.



Phd Student(s)


Isabella van Elferen

Kingston University London