The Emotions

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Rineke van Daalen

Pioneering work in the historical nature of the emotions began in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time interest in aspects of history that previously had been largely unexplored increased, and historians initiated studies of the lives of ordinary men and women, their habits and beliefs, and their attitudes toward birth, marriage, death, and disease. These new topics, especially the study of family life, put researchers on the track of different kinds of emotions. Indeed the sociologist Michael Anderson considered "the sentimental approach" one of the three most important theoretical streams in the history of family life.

The examination of changes in familial emotional standards and experience and in their interactions, has encompassed a broad range, including feelings of honor and gender, honor in relation to parents or to the family, shame and sexuality, and shame in relation to illness. Scholars considered feelings like love and empathy or their absence thoroughly and systematically as topics in their own right, and they have given particular attention to the feelings of affection between men and women and between parents and children. They paid less attention to intersibling dynamics and such feelings as anger, hate, jealousy, grief, shame, and embarrassment, which they studied more obliquely. For the rest, emotion research casts its net to include far more than family life. For example, it may take in attitudes toward political events, the conditions under which anger appeared among the working classes, or the social specificity of fear and phobias.

For obvious reasons, historians are best informed about the feelings of those who are articulate. Adults, members of the elite, and those who were literate clearly generate more sources than do children, peasants, or workers. Personal documents, such as autobiographies, letters, and diaries, provide a many-faceted image of emotional cultures in the past. Parents reflected on the educations of their children and recorded their surprise, pride, or disappointment as they watched their offspring grow up. Adults looked back to their early years and wrote about their emotional lives as children, and in a few instances children wrote diaries.

The interest in emotions went hand in hand with a growth in interdisciplinary methods. Historical approaches combined with sociological, anthropological, and psychoanalytic theories. These disciplines all had characteristic theoretical and methodological traditions, making it difficult to integrate them and take advantage of their individual strengths. During the twentieth century historical research into intimate relations raised theoretical and methodological issues. Aside from the lack of historical sources for the study of emotions, interpreting these sources can be complex. A tension exists between deeply held emotional standards, emotionology, and emotional experience, that is, between the ideals and fantasies of people on the one hand and reality on the other hand (Stearns and Stearns, 1985). That makes it difficult to understand exactly what moral and medical tracts, manner books, religious sermons, legislation, pictures and paintings, biographies, and letters reveal about emotional lives and psychic structures. To what extent do these sources recount reality, or do changes in this material correspond with actual transformations in emotions and in behavior?

Because of the historically and locally bound nature of emotional standards and emotion management, such questions cannot be answered in general terms. Methodological directives and methodological problems are dependent on time and place. Before the late seventeenth century many aspects of social life were public. In interactions between men, women, and children, the role of the community was important in defining and enforcing standards of conduct and emotions. Privacy was a more diffuse concept and did not exist in the modern sense. Thus social historians studying love in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have not become much wiser from analyzing diaries or love poetry. Considering the traces of love, which were specific for the early modern period, is more productive. People tended to associate love with the body and with visible and tangible behavior, and they thought it could be controlled in the same way as other physical functions. They assumed that magic, potions, charms, and rituals could ensure the desired outcome to an amorous encounter. Lore concerning significant objects and customs provides greater insight into such a culture of the emotions than do diaries or autobiographies (Gillis, 1988).

A Dutch study of personal documents demonstrates in another way that each source has its own outlook and limitations. Historians looking for expressions of grief at the death of a child in pre–nineteenth century diaries have found only dryly formulated short notes. But to base observations merely on those brief remarks and to infer that parents were not deeply moved by the death of a child would be inaccurate. Diaries were not where people expressed their mourning. Family happenings and familial emotions were commonly described in topical poems and songs. Indeed epitaphs and printed poetry disclose passionate specimens of grief (Dekker, 1995).

Texts and representations were constructed for different reasons and with a certain intention and public in mind. Parental diaries recording children's educations do not elaborate on severe methods of behavior regulation. But retrospective writing on childhood and youth may reveal a different perspective, recalling harsh treatment and physical punishment (Pollock, 1983). By combining a broad variety of material and the perspectives of different groups, researchers can expand and better substantiate their hypotheses.

Methodological, conceptual, and theoretical problems have induced a great many controversies and disputes and in some cases have resulted in diametrically opposed views on the history of emotions. This tendency has been reinforced by the fragmented nature of emotion research, which is scattered over demarcated studies of intimate relations in different places and among different groups in western Europe. These studies demonstrate the relevance of understanding emotional standards and experiences within the context of broader social, economic, and political relations. They uncover where the first signs of romantic love or modern maternal feelings appeared, in which countries or regions, in rural or urban communities, or among peasants, artisans, the bourgeoisie, or the working classes. But few studies look at the direction, chronology, and origins of change. A History of the Family (1986), a systematically comparative family study edited by André Burguière, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Martine Segalen, and François Zonabend, elaborates on differences in family life between northern and southern Europe and between eastern and western Europe but without focusing on emotions.

A pioneer work in this area is Norbert Elias's study The Civilizing Process (originally published in German in 1939). Examining the relationship between social and psychic processes in western Europe from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, Elias developed an inclusive theoretical framework. He demonstrated that changes in personality structure relate to changes in social structure and that changes in emotion management are a function of social interdependencies. This treatment of emotion management contributed a historical and sociological perspective to human psychology and gave the nature of the modern habitus a central place in the history of European societies. It is an example of the interdisciplinary approach required in analyses of changes in emotional behavior and emotional experience.

Studying a variety of European etiquette manuals, Elias identified gradual changes in emotional standards. During the Middle Ages emotions were expressed more violently and directly with fewer psychological nuances and complexities than in subsequent centuries. Manners were less formalized, and fewer aspects of behavior and feeling were subjected to strict regulation. Attitudes toward violence, sexuality, bodily functions, and emotions gradually changed. In the centuries that followed the Middle Ages people exerted stronger pressures on each other, implying self-restraint and a more stable, balanced, and differentiated self-regulation. Aspects of human behavior, especially those associated with bodily functions, such as sleeping or eating, became strictly regulated and were regarded as distasteful. Consequently they were removed to the back stage of social life. Confrontations with people whose manners were less formal produced feelings of embarrassment and discomfort.

Elias related the changes in people's behavioral and emotional standards to expanding social constraints and to the processes of state formation and growing interdependency. He perceived a connection between the level of control of natural and social phenomena at a given moment and the amount of affect and fantasy in a society's thinking. The greater the affective involvement of people, the less their ability to understand and control their world. In his comprehensive study La peur en occident (1978) Jean Delumeau also dealt with changes in the relationships among living conditions, the need for security, and sentiments of fear in the "Christianized" Western world between the fourteenth century and the eighteenth century. Elias drew important connections between social and psychological processes. Subsequently developments in different kinds of emotion management have become a major topic of study. Although family life may be seen as the main site for the transmission of the habitus that characterizes a society, feelings between people who are intimate are only one of the many research subjects in this tradition. A variety of other emotions, ranging from changing feelings of solidarity with and compassion for the poor and sick to changing feelings of discomfort with outsiders, also have received attention.

The following paragraphs picture changes in emotion management and deal with various theoretical approaches and controversies. The focus lies on the emotionalizing of family relations, emphasizing love relations and maternal or parental feelings. The central, recurrent theme refers to the most important phenomena in the history of emotions in western Europe, the gradual separation of nuclear families from the wider community and from extended kinship ties; the withdrawal of families from the outside world, including servants; and the individuation of persons with respect to the nuclear family. This extension and differentiation of social networks is related to changes manifested in emotional attitudes toward events, such as birth, death, and marriage, and to shifts in emotional involvement and in feelings of identification and loyalty to the family, the community, and the nation.

This article examines the distribution of emotions and emotional standards and their spread among sexes, social strata, religions, cities, and the countryside by imitation and through disciplining and regulating measures. It also sheds some light on differences in emotion regimes in various regions of Europe.


The view that romantic love and maternal sentiment are part of modernity is strongly contested by some social historians. They do not observe the emergence of a new emotional style and relativize differences from the past, arguing that relationships between betrothed couples and spouses and between parents and children have always possessed an affectionate character.

As to feelings between men and women, it is difficult to maintain that passionate love is a recent phenomenon found exclusively in the modern period. Sentiments of love have a differentiated and versatile history. Raging love and lovesickness, erotomania, have a long tradition that go back to antiquity (Lepenies, 1969; Wack, 1990). People suffering from these passions were obsessed with the loved object, and in that respect their feelings relate to more modern notions of courtly love and romantic love, which initially were the prerogative of a small, elite circle. In The Court Society (1969) Elias considered the development of romantic love relations in France, both reality and ideal, characteristic of the Renaissance. During this period behavior came to be governed less by spontaneous, immediate impulses and more by deliberation and contemplation. Accepted manners became stricter and behavioral codes more regulated. Distance increased between feelings and reason, while at the same time a space arose in which personal and intimate passions could flourish.

Elias observed, first among the courtly elite, a transition from relatively simple and undifferentiated sentiments toward complicated, subtle feelings between men and women. New demands on emotion management for women and even for physically strong men first were formalized into codes of manners and later became unwritten laws requiring self-control. Men and women became more reserved toward each other in matters of sexuality, while their thresholds of shame and embarrassment increased. The growing distance between the sexes manifested itself in the concealment of sexual activity, both in social interactions and in consciousness. Idealizing and refraining from the loved object and seeking satisfaction in personal melancholy were ingredients of the sentimental complex of romantic love. Elias considered these alterations in emotion regimes as the symbolic expression of changes in the distribution of power, status, and respect in the seventeenth-century French court. The aristocratic circles were especially affected by the restraints that accompanied centralization of power in seventeenth-century France.

In a certain sense Mary Wack's observations concur with Elias's views. She demonstrated in Lovesickness in the Middle Ages (1990) that the person suffering from erotic preoccupation was typically a man of noble birth. His lovesickness resolved the psychological and social tensions facing aristocratic males. Lovesickness enabled aristocrats to control their own erotic vulnerability, regarded as feminine, in a rational, masculine way.

Women in love relations were initially restricted to the role of the object of desire, but their positions changed during the Renaissance, when medical writers depicted them as victims of love. Lovesickness, associated with "female disorders," such as chlorosis, hysteria, and nymphomania, became connected to pathology of the sexual organs. The doctor's visit to the languishing young woman was a frequent theme in seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting. Wack attributed this shift in the position of women during the early modern period to the surplus of young, marriageable women, who confronted a shortage of eligible men. For these women lovesickness was a strategy for finding sexual and romantic fulfillment. Once the doctor had diagnosed unsatisfied love and discovered the object of this love, the girl's parents could arrange a marriage and a happy ending.

These studies by Elias and Wack use both a cultural anthropological and a sociological approach to earlier societies. They try to understand and to reconstruct feelings of love and lovesickness by accounting for how people perceived the phenomenon of love in the past and by interpreting it in a historical social context. They clarify that affective relations between men and women are part of broader social constellations and that later concepts of romantic love, despite some similarities, must be separated from courtly passions, which had nothing to do with marriage.

The classic studies of the rise of familial feelings, including Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (1975), Jean-Louis Flandrin, Familles: Parenté, maison, sexualité dans l'ancienne société (1976), and Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500–1800 (1977), regard romantic love as an important aspect of the modernization of the familial emotional culture. They observe during the eighteenth century the replacement of familial and community considerations by romantic sentiments and a striving for personal happiness. Courtship became a private affair, in which people did not wish to be restrained by communities, parents, peers, or neighbors. This privatization reordered priorities in partner selection, which became more personal. People followed their own inclinations, often at some geographical distance from their home communities. Spontaneity and empathy rose in importance, and customs and tradition fell to secondary positions. Endogamy declined along village lines, occupational lines, and class and status lines, while the ages of partners increasingly approached equality.

Shorter, Stone, and Flandrin located the beginnings of the romantic revolution with different social strata and interpreted its origin in different ways. Shorter situated its birth at the same time that affective sexuality was linked to romance, and he saw the lower classes, who were in the eighteenth century the first to be caught up in the market economy, as the vanguard of the sexual revolution. For these new proletarians, capitalist work generated an escape from traditional controls and a wish to be free. Stone located the rise of "affective individualism" with the key middle and upper sectors of English society and situated its establishment half-way through the eighteenth century. The emerging, wealthy entrepreneurial bourgeoisie was especially receptive to the values of personal affections because their way of life was oriented to personal achievement, thrift, and hard work. From the late seventeenth century on their ideas about domesticity, marital affection, and the education of their children spread to other segments of the English elite.

Personal autonomy and romantic love interwove first for young lovers. But love was difficult to reconcile with the social obligations of establishing a household. Feelings of love during courtship were considered a prelude to marriage but a danger during marriage. Thus the transformation of courtship preceded a larger transformation of married life. Men and women defined their marriage relationships not so much in terms of intimacy as in terms of cooperation and mutual sharing (Gillis, 1985). Marrying was a good strategy to guarantee a certain level of prosperity or, for the rich, to preserve the family capital.

Feelings between husbands and wives became less dependent on economic considerations earlier for the higher social classes, while the lower social classes had to wait until the rise of the welfare state. As that happened romantic sentiments more easily spilled over into marriage. It is characteristic for this type of conjugal ideal that love, marriage, and sex are strongly interwoven. The self-evidence of this tripartite unity came to be challenged during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. With the possibility of sex for the sake of sex, men and women who were infatuated slept together, even without considering marriage. By the end of the twentieth century couples chose to live apart, to live together, or to marry. A tension arose between sexual desire and the longing for enduring intimacy (Wouters, 1998).

For couples rich, poor, urban, and rural, in all their variety, ideals of intimacy and love took on importance at every stage of their relationships. Though love was judged a necessary foundation for lasting relations between men and women, the tension between feelings of love during courtship and the reality of running a home and living together did not vanish completely. Consequently Gillis termed the romantic marriage "ideal," often unable to live up to everyday reality and the myth of conjugal love. The myth persists and although most people are aware of its idealized nature, they still behave as if it were viable. The imbalance between feelings of romantic love and worries about everyday life has had a somewhat gendered nature. Although decreasingly in the twenty-first century, young girls remain preoccupied with love. They idealize men, they fall in love more often than boys, and they have fantasies about dream lovers. These fantasies of heterosexual intimacy have rarely come true (Gillis, 1985), but girls and women expect more empathy and understanding from their lovers and spouses than do men. Women value emotional marriage ideals more than men and show a greater need, willingness, and ability to talk with their partners and to discuss their emotions and relationships. Also they are sooner disappointed and dissatisfied, although men and women both strive for affectionate companionship and shared lifestyles and both have high expectations of each other. People widely hold that once love and infatuation dwindle, the only legitimate reason for staying together has disappeared.

As the supervision of community and family diminished and men and women increasingly regulated their own relationships, their behavior and feelings were subjected to codes and formal emotional standards. But during the twentieth century these standards steadily relaxed, becoming varied and subtle. This trend toward informality may be explained by greater equality in the balance of power between the sexes and by the emancipation of women. For men this process implied increased self-discipline and empathy, while women gained more latitude and greater opportunities. In that sense the distance between women and men decreased. The demands of lovers and partners, male and female, with respect to intimate and sexual relations were heightened. Sincere emotions and authenticity gained importance, while formal manners lost their absolute and discriminatory character. Emotional management came to depend on the situation, and people were expected to assess and understand empathetically which emotional standards were appropriate (Wouters, 1995).


The historiography of parental attitudes and emotions has been strongly influenced by the work of the French demographic historian Philippe Ariès. Centuries of Childhood (1960), a study of changes in manners and feelings of parents and children, reviews the long period of the ancien régime and is based on pictorial representations of family life and a diversity of texts.

Among Ariès's important observations is that the position of infants and small children and the attitude of adults toward children in medieval society were profoundly different from those of twentieth-century society. The idea of childhood as a life stage and the awareness of the particular nature of children did not exist. During the twelfth century children were depicted as adults reduced to a smaller scale with adult expressions and features. As soon as children could walk, talk, and do without constant supervision, they became part of the adult world and participated in adult activities. They did not wear special clothes and did not possess games or toys. At about the age of ten poor children were expected to leave home to work as servants in other households. For them quitting the state of dependence on their parents also meant leaving childhood. The French language made no distinction between children and adolescents. The word enfant (child) referred to both categories.

Ariès observed that the pictorial representations of children indicate a gradual transformation in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. The affectionate and naive aspects of the appearance and behavior of children, their special charms, were brought to the fore, first in the religious iconography of childhood and later, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in the lay iconography as well. The first representations of dead children in the sixteenth century were made on their parents' tombs beside their mothers, but in the seventeenth century the children were represented by and for themselves. These later portraits indicate that children were increasingly seen as beings with souls of their own.

A growing sensibility appeared among parents, evidenced by their pleasure with the amusing charm and frolicsome behavior of their small children. They expressed their new emotional appreciation of childhood by coddling and playing, yet at the same time they were afraid that too much tenderness could spoil children. Instead of being entranced by the winsomeness of their children, parents should act like educators. For children to mix with adults too much could be harmful to their fragile natures, while too much coddling, though much enjoyed by the parents, was also a risk. Taking the specific nature of each child as the starting point, parents should correct the conduct of their offspring. Accompanying these new ideas, the process of growing from childhood to adulthood became a lengthier one.

Seen from the theoretical framework of Elias, changes in the emotion management of adults are linked with those of children. The differentiation of childhood and changes in the relationship between children and adults suggest a growing distance between adulthood and childhood in their patterns of emotion regulation. Growing up took a longer time because children had to learn more before they could behave as adults. The emotional involvement on the part of parents expanded, while the emotional distance from their children decreased. Both parents and children had to acquire greater self-control and emotion management.

Comparing the medieval ideas and feelings of parents about their offspring with this new parental sensitivity, Ariès observed that the former adult attitude may be considered insensitive or indifferent. But he warned explicitly against confusing this restraint with a lack of affection. Infant mortality was high, and a certain reserve provided a modus vivendi for overcoming grief at the death of a child. Their vulnerability and low chance of survival converted children into anonymous beings waiting for adulthood.

Ariès's work was continued by various social historians and sociologists who emphasized the transformation of parental feelings. While Ariès described the discovery of childhood and its consequences for feelings and manners in a reserved and cautious way, his followers made more radical statements. The classic example is Shorter's The Making of the Modern Family. In dealing with the upsurge of parental sentiments, Shorter primarily was concerned with the relation between mothers and infants. Seeing indifference as the traditional attitude of mothers toward their babies and small children, he elaborated this thesis by analyzing eighteenth-century practices like abandoning illegitimate infants, swaddling babies, and sending babies to paid wet nurses, an old custom among the aristocracy that during the seventeenth century trickled down to lower social strata. He considered these practices deliberate, cruel actions in all social classes and an indication of the absence of maternal feelings. He did not observe any signs of mothers coddling and playing with their babies and suggested that mothers accepted even the death of a baby with placid equanimity. Women whose earnings could cover the wet nurse's wages or whose husbands could afford the costs boarded out their children in large numbers; poor women took in nurslings.

Factory workers were the only group that never boarded out their infants or took in nurslings. Shorter saw them as "the spearhead of modernization" in the development of romantic feelings also. He demonstrated that it is impossible to generalize for the whole of France let alone Europe because of vast differences in scale and the pace of change in maternal feelings among social classes, regions, country folk, and urbanites. In general the persistence of traditional indifference lasted longer in the heart of the countryside and among the lower classes. Within Europe, France was an anomaly in the number of children sent away from home to live with a wet nurse. In England the custom of swaddling was abolished before the start of the nineteenth century, while the modernization of maternal feelings developed slowly in central Europe (admittedly a broad category). In the Netherlands swaddling never was common, and even wet nurses who came to feed a baby at his or her home were rare (Shorter, 1975; Clerkx, 1985).

For Shorter, Elisabeth Badinter, Stone, and Lloyd deMause this absence of maternal affection caused maternal uninvolvement and poor child care. They regarded maternal feelings as an independent variable. Maternal indifference, common in France and England before the eighteenth century, continued in some circles and in isolated regions well into the nineteenth century, and these scholars held that indifference responsible for the high infant mortality. It seems possible that the rise in maternal emotional involvement and the concomitant increased attention to their offspring may result in a decrease of the rate of infant mortality. This stretches Ariès's argument that parents could not permit themselves to become attached to a child whose risk of dying was so high (Ariès, 1960).

These interpretations of apparently affectionless familial attitudes, particularly the more radical versions, have evoked violent discussion. Historians such as Alan Macfarlane and Linda Pollock have argued the opposite view, claiming that emotional relations have changed little over the centuries and playing down generalizations about dramatic transformations. Macfarlane elaborated this thesis with respect to relations between men and women, while Pollock did the same for parental care and child life from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century.

The lack of consensus about long-term changes in familial emotions reflects the personal and emotional involvement of the researchers. Scholars accused each other of sloppiness, for example, in selectively reading and quoting their sources without an eye for inconsistencies or for data that did not fit their interpretations. They even claimed willful misinterpretation in "the other camp." Both perspectives have been strongly influenced by the family standards common in twentieth-century Western societies. The emotional involvement of scholars has prevented them from doing justice to the perspectives and perceptions of mothers and from making interpretations in the social context of the times.

Ariès's work was innovative in more than one respect. He wrote his book in a period when the nuclear family was blossoming and booming in the West, when family life centered around children, and when many people considered that living together in strictly private nuclear families was the normal and established way. Ariès, however, demonstrated that attitudes toward childhood are specific to societies at certain moments in time. Age differentiation and the lengthening of the phase called "childhood and youth" should be seen as modern phenomena. Child care and parental feelings also have their own histories. In the 1960s and 1970s Ariès's ideas and even more so the work of the historians who followed him did not, in a sense, fit the current, emotional family ideal. As material security increased, sociologists pointed to the decline of the economic and material functions of the family and situated its major importance in its affectionate functions. Family historians focused on the affective and to a lesser extent on the cognitive aspects of human dependencies and on the relativation of the importance of economic and political aspects of social life. In this respect their perspective has been similar to that of family sociologists. The observation that familial emotions in the past were less affectionate than in the twentieth century was all the more disturbing and surprising.


The increasing importance of the conjugal family as a social group has produced important changes in emotional involvement. In the sixteenth century feelings of loyalty were directed to family members, to neighbors in the local community, to mostly homosocial peer groups, and to people of the same religion. Scarcely any sections of the population entertained the notion of an independent nuclear family. The family life of the merchant and ruling classes was embedded in extended families and that of peasants and artisans in the small communities. In the modern period the networks in which people lived gradually expanded, while the family relations of both the rich and the poor moved in the direction of differentiation of the conjugal family as a discrete, private, and revered social unit. Domesticity became an ideal and gradually separated from the interference and concern of family and community. Identifications and feelings of loyalty broadened, while at the same time the emotional attachments between members of the nuclear family became stronger (Ariès and Duby, 1985–1987; De Swaan, 1995).

These processes of inclusion and exclusion embraced a more general process of change within a broad range of intimate and physical human behaviors and mentalities. Family members lived more on their own, and their emotional attachments became strengthened. The consolidation of affectionate bonds between mothers and infants in Shorter's view has crystallized this process of privatization and seclusion of the nuclear family. He drew a correlation between changes in the emotional attitude toward birth and changes in the significance of the community at this event.

Dutch seventeenth- and eighteenth-century genre pictures of kraamkamers, rooms specially furnished and decorated for the lying-in period, may be relatively early expressions of this connection. Events in the kraamkamer just after birth were a popular theme of Dutch genre artists, some of whom, such as Cornelis Troost, painted a series on this subject. The large number of paintings makes possible a comparison of fifty kraamkamers from the beginning of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century. The most important change in these pictures is increased intimacy and privacy indicated by, among other things, the number of people present. The older illustrations depict crowds of visitors eating, drinking, and making merry. The spaces are relatively open, and windows and doors provide views of the world outside the room or even outside the house. The later pictures, including Troost's, show an intimate circle around mother and infant of at the most five people with no view of the world outside.

The small family scenes and the way they are represented reveal the relatively early private and emotional relations of nuclear families among certain elite circles in the Dutch Republic. Foreign visitors reported that Dutch family life was characterized by a strong attachment to hearth and home and by a close family orientation, especially among burghers, well-to-do citizens such as merchants or patricians (Van Daalen, 1993).

An upsurge of romantic love during courtship and new definitions of love accompanied the nuclear, domesticated family life. The changes in marriage patterns were similar to the privatization of the kraamkamers. In the seventeenth century a new couple had to submit to public rites of passage, while betrothal in later times licensed withdrawal from the peer group, which guaranteed some privacy. Traditional marriages were public happenings, creating a new social order where roles were well defined, rituals were firmly established, and feelings were kept well under control. In the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries love became associated with intimacy and was defined as an inner feeling. The new notions of love required new expressions. Verbal utterances replaced traditional customs and ritual practices, and the public rites of betrothal were replaced by the private engagement, witnessed only by the immediate family. These transformations occurred first among the educated elites from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. Smallholders and artisans continued the traditional practices and the old definitions of love well into the nineteenth century. Indeed elements of this constellation still existed in the working-class cultures of industrialized Western countries in the twentieth century (Gillis, 1985).

Such changes in dependency relations and in emotion management may be seen as aspects of the disintegration of preindustrial, small-scale community life and as part of the expanding networks in which people participated and in which their identities were molded. Among these aspects was a growing gap between elite groups and the common people or between a "high" culture and a "low" culture. Pagan feasts and charivaris were condemned along with frightening phenomena like witchcraft and all kinds of blasphemy. The mad and the poor were seen as a public danger and were labeled sluggards, heretics, and disease carriers who should be confined to workhouses. From the sixteenth century on, during the religious reformations, Protestant, Catholic, and civil authorities together increased their efforts to acculturate and normalize deviant people within a Christian moral order. This moral order had a reassuring effect and diminished feelings of fear (Delumeau, 1978).

During nineteenth century state expansion, nation building, and industrialization people became integrated within the framework of the nation-state. The relevance of this frame of reference for intimate relations and emotion management increased with the expansion of collective welfare arrangements, beginning in the swiftly growing cities of the nineteenth century. Large numbers of newcomers seized the new opportunities of the industrializing cities. Local facilities were no longer fit to deal with the urban situations, and municipal institutions tried hard to adapt. People manifested an increasing sensitivity to one another and connected the inconvenience of stench and dirt with fears about infectious diseases and anxieties about "social contamination." Feelings of disgust mingled with concerns about the domestication of bodily functions, public hygiene, and morality. Citizens and municipal institutions demarcated rooms for different functions, separated and cloaked houses from the outside world, and ascribed specific functions to different urban areas. These actions protected domesticity and family life while spatially segregating different classes (Corbin, 1982; Gleichmann, 1977; Van Daalen, 1988). The annoyance and offense of crowds of people intertwined with changes in patterns of stratification. In those nineteenth-century cities physical and social mysophobia should be seen as signs of social and status insecurities.

In the twentieth century the development of the welfare state made poverty less threatening with improved material conditions and institutionalized social security. Thus the vagaries of fate were tempered, which implies a change for the better, especially for the lower social strata. The lower classes gained the possibilities of emancipation and changes in affect control and behavioral codes, which in previous periods had been the standard among the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Increased social security in this respect may be considered as a condition of change in emotion management throughout society. But in other respects new forms of emotion management, such as the willingness among people from all social classes to save money, were necessary conditions for the collectivization of social security.

Processes of collectivization also have intentionally promoted affect control, especially among the lower classes. A broad range of professional groups emerged, each with its own discourse and its own emotional and behavioral codes. Their specialized knowledge and their accompanying professional attitudes were more and more taken over by laypeople. Individuals acquired a more deliberate, more calculating, and more detached attitude and approach to their bodies and emotions. Instead of following tradition, intuition, and first impulses, they tried to reflect on their conduct and emotions by looking for orientation among relevant professionals (Donzelot, 1979; De Swaan, 1988).

With regard to the education of their children, parents paid heed to advice from medical doctors, psychologists, and professional educators. They sought information about the different emotional stages of growing up and considered this insight necessary for a good, equality loving education. To a lesser extent a comparable process of professionalization accompanied the emotionalization of the relations between men and women. A broad range of experts offered advice and consultation.

Thus the control of emotions and the concealment of reactions are induced on the one hand by more security and on the other hand by professional, formal knowledge and insights. The transformation in emotional culture has occurred along with emotional restraint and a growing reluctance to display emotional intensity (Stearns, 1994). But at the same time it could be said that the growth of arrangements promoting material security established conditions for the increased importance of emotions in social relations. Styles of emotion management became more relevant as a criterion in the process of ranking and in the struggle for status and power (Wouters, 1992).

A comparable link may be seen between the degree of physical safety and material security in societies and the blossoming of sociological and historical interest in emotions and emotion management (Wouters, 1992). In Western societies a relatively high level of safety and security has promoted the study of emotions, especially in the 1970s and the 1980s. After that period the passionate wrangles waned somewhat, and the topic of emotions became a study in its own right. It is a field of research with evident blind spots, such as hate and other emotions that induce aggression and violence in a modern world.

See also other articles in this section.


Anderson, Michael. Approaches to the History of the Western Family, 1500–1914. London, 1980.

Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Translated by Robert Baldick. New York, 1962. First published in 1960.

Ariès, Philippe, and Georges Duby, eds. Histoire de la vie privée. Paris, 1985–1987.

Badinter, Elisabeth. L'amour en plus: Histoire de l'amour maternel, XVIIe–XXe siècle. Paris, 1980.

Burguière, André, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Martine Segalen, and Françoise Zonabend, eds. A History of the Family. Vol. 2: The Impact of Modernity. Translated by Sarah Hanbury-Tenison, Rosemary Morris, and Andrew Wilson. Cambridge, Mass., 1996. Originally published in 1986.

Clerkx, Lily E. "Moederende minnen en minnende moeders: Elisabeth Badinter construeert een mythe." Lover 1 (1985): 3–11.

Corbin, Alain. Le miasme et la jonquille: L'odorat et l'imaginaire social XVIIIe–XIXe siècles. Paris, 1982. Delumeau, Jean. La peur en occident, XIVe–XVIIIe siècles. Paris, 1978.

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The Emotions

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The Emotions