Theatre and the practice of citizenship: from antiquity to the French Revolution
David Wiles is completing a project on citizenship, with his research funded in part by the AHRC. Citizenship is a key concept in modern attempts to define how theatre can be useful to society, either in applied and participatory forms, or in the more traditional form that receives substantial state funding. The term citizenship has always been a contested one, but has retained its usefulness as an ethical term that is independent both of nationalism and religious sanction. It implies that humans are not merely individuals but are components of a larger social body. Within that broad picture, libertarian and communitarian ideals offer very different accounts of what the citizen should be: the focus of a set of rights, or the focus of responsibilities?
The project is of a historical nature, and explores how European theatre has aspired to create citizens, through ongoing dialogue with classical antiquity. The concepts both of theatre and of citizenship (alongside democracy, republicanism, etc) all spring from antiquity, and from Machiavelli to the French revolution the classical world provided a reference point or utopia allowing a nuanced level of debate. Today that reference point has been lost, resulting in a significant loss of conceptual clarity when the usefulness of theatre is being assessed. This project aims to make those debates and experiments available, so that ongoing discussion of citizenship may be more productive in an age when we increasingly unsure what we are citizens of: an ethnic group, a nation-state, the human race, the planet, etc., and when the language of ‘democracy’ is often used without awareness of its specific cultural roots.