This book is edited by Birgitt Röttger-Rössler, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology and Director of the Collaborative Research Centre 1171 “Affective Societies: Dynamics of social coexistence in mobile worlds”at Freie Universität Berlin and Jan Slaby, Professor of Philosophy at Freie Universität Berlin. This post is by Jan Slaby.
Affect epitomizes a dimension of meaning within human sociality that is not a matter of established discourse, of stable identities, institutions, cultural norms or categories, but rather something that is lived, from moment to moment, at a level of sensuous bodily reality beyond codification, consolidation or capture. Affect unfolds dynamically and relationally between actors, artifacts and within spatial arrangements of various sorts. It incessantly transgresses individual perspectives and frames of reference, including that of the autonomous subject of the liberalist tradition.
As Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, Deleuze and other dissenters from the Western intellectual canon knew well, affect is a matter of dynamic connection and transmission prior to – yet formative of – understanding, discourse and practice. While it might be impossible to grasp its sensuous immediacy directly, proponents of affect studies aim to cultivate a sensitivity for fleeting moments, for stirrings of the nascent, for the not-yet formed, the pre-reflective, the spectral presences prior to reflection and articulation. Such a sensitivity often deviates from disciplinary canons and from the strictures of theory.
Scholars of affect are thus inclined to explore poetic and personal styles, align with the arts more than with academia, or experiment with unusual modes of articulation. Yet, their orientation has political bearings as well, as their work responds to the current conjuncture and is a continuation, under novel conditions, of earlier projects of cultural articulation and critique. Powerful approaches to affect within feminist and critical race theory crystallize the political potency and critical impact of the turn to affect.
Our aim in compiling Affect in Relation is to outline a conceptually coherent perspective on relational affect responding to many lines of inquiry and areas of application that have proven fruitful. Conserving the motivating insights and perspectival plurality of the more radical strands of the turn to affect, the volume yet works towards a conceptually and methodologically more elaborated framework. The main focus is on subject formation. Against the individualist gist of 20th century mentalism we emphasize relational dynamics unfolding in situated practices and social settings. Affect is what dynamically and energetically binds human actors into shared environmental – social, material and technological – constellations. These in turn shape modalities of agency, habit and self-understanding.
Affective relations thereby coalesce into subject positions, which get subsequently policed, nudged, governed – and further stabilized – within the practices of paramount institutions and social domains. Based on this, relational affect enables insights into cultural transformation, since nascent changes in institutional routines and styles of interaction register affectively before they get recognized and articulated in discourse. Relational affect is both formative of and transformative for human actors and for the practices, institutions and collectives they are involved in. While philosophy is not the main focus, the book’s perspective resonates with enactivism, with embodied and extended mind theory, with the ‘situated affectivity’ movement, and even more so with key strands of continental thought from Spinoza to Deleuze & Guattari and Foucault.
The volume combines empirical case studies from social- and cultural anthropology, sociology, cultural geography, culture and media studies with theoretical contributions from these and related fields, including social philosophy. The contributors showcase the potentials of affect studies in exemplary domains, such as child-rearing and education settings, sites and practices of religious devotion, political street protests, contemporary workplaces in the knowledge and information sector, and several arrangements of networked media.
The 13 chapters are connected through a set of assumptions and working concepts that are explained in the detailed introduction, written by the editors to ease readers into the field. In four thematic sections – Families, Places, Work and Media – authors then present case studies and medium-range theoretical perspectives. Among contributors are esteemed affect experts Marie-Luise Angerer, Lisa Blackman and Melissa Gregg, acclaimed cultural anthropologists Hans-Jörg Dilger, Maruska Svasek, Joana Pfaff-Czarnecka and up and coming junior scholars Gilbert Caluya, Omar Kasmani and Rainer Mühlhoff.