Meike Wagner
Professor Meike Wagner, Project manager. Photo: Sören Andersson / Stockholm University

Amateur theatre played a significant role in the formation of a modern concept of citizenship that emerged during the Enlightenment and took shape during the American and French Revolutions. Around the social activities enacted and texts performed a broad-based movement developed between 1780 and 1850 that, arguably, had more impact than professional theatre which has previously been the almost exclusive focus of theatre studies. In the period, non-professional theatre offered huge educative possibilities for the acquisition of skills and competences deemed essential to becoming a ‘good citizen’. For the first time, a historiographical research project will study European amateur theatre’s impact on social change.

Five different case studies will bring distinct cultural and political contexts into the picture that determined ideas and practices of citizenship as well as theatre: 1) late-absolutist rule in Germany, 2) revolutionary shifts in France, 3) parliamentary rule in Great Britain, 4) reformed monarchy in Sweden, and 5) a contested republic in Switzerland. The study of amateur theatre in these regions will reveal the development of their citizen practices in regard to accessibility and agency, aesthetic education, institutionalisation and professionalization.

Project description

Merging performance theory, cultural theory and institutional theory this project will connect the historical formation of citizenship to discourses on performativity and the building of identity through embodied practices. It will also help to foreground the role of non-professional theatre in the shaping of society.

The key objectives of this project are:

[1] to contribute to a historiographic shift by focusing on the ‘doing’ and performativity of theatre practices

[2] to examine how concepts of citizenship emerged around theatre in Germany, France, Britain, Sweden and Switzerland

[3] to analyse how non-professional theatre embraced and further developed concepts that helped to establish a citizen identity

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Meike Wagner (Stockholm University)
With a research team of young scholars from Stockholm University and the University of Warwick.

Project members

Project manager

Professor Meike Wagner


Dr. David Coates, University of Warwick, more information at the University of Warwich webpage

Associate Member

Dr. Maria Gullstam, Stockholm University,