Oral Presentation Session
Invited by: Anthropology of Children and Youth Interest Group
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: The Political
While there are always present in different historical periods forms of emotional regime (Reddy 2001), one characteristic of late capitalism is that emotion is now being instrumentalized, managed, and incited in new ways within liberal democratic states. Contemporary developments in neuroscience, biology, and computer science articulate with regimes of accumulation increasingly focused on capitalizing the social (Davies 2015), on connection, on emotion, and on the body (Rose 2007, Grosz 1995, Kraftl 2015). Such knowledge and practice has engendered a particular biopolitical focus on the management of emotion and "emotional capital" (Illouz 2007) at the same time that it constructs new ideal emotional subjects, and a new conviction on the part of states and their institutions that emotion-focused interventions can transform individual life trajectories as well as dynamics of social mobility and inequality in stratified and multicultural progressive states.
In this emerging, global biopolitics of emotion, children figure centrally as developmental, trainable, and manageable subjects (Gagen 2015, Kraftl 2015). As the paramount subjects of a developmental gaze, children are key to regimes of emotional expression and regulation around the globe. This panel thus engages this year’s theme of resistance, resilience, and adaptation in relation to social and political transformations by exploring the emergent deployment of an emotional biopolitics that is elaborated in divergent contexts of the global North and South and child-focused. The papers here examine how particular dominant or ascendant styles of emotional regulation and expression are encouraged and repressed across children’s diverse institutional and social contexts and in relation to children’s different social identities. At the same time, the papers investigate how children and those that care for, educate, or police them, differently engage discourses and practices around emotional differences, often framed as forms of deviance—sometimes refusing, sometimes accommodating, and other times re-purposing emotion-focused forms of social differentiation or dominant emotional regimes.
In exploring the emergence of a child-focused emotional biopolitics, presentations included in this panel build on earlier, pioneering work in the anthropology of emotion that highlight the social and cultural construction of emotions and emotional categories, the political work that emotional discourses do, and the relationship of social hierarchies and historical processes to forms of emotional regime (Lutz and Abu-Lughod 1990, Reddy 2001). Papers share a common focus on the production of children as “emotional suspects,” a concept we extrapolate from Judith Butler's "gender suspects" (1997), which refers to the reciprocal process between individuals and societies that generate trust or mistrust of certain forms of self-expression. The collection explores children’s emotions, capacities for emotional regulation, and their subjectification as emotional suspects in relation to specific political projects, from education, the production of the carceral state, and the management of social inequality along lines of race in the United States, to the management of children’s and young people’s economic and social precarity in the global South.