Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Race
Secondary Theme: Social movements
Everywhere political liberalism appears to be on the back foot. Empassioned appeals to nationalist sentiment increasingly dominate electoral campaigns and policy shifts in North America, Europe, South Asia, Latin America, and beyond. Proliferating identity movements seem to have abandoned collective rights discourse in favor of personalized demands for recognition and respect. Anxious liberals signal the alarm of the slide of democratic polities into de facto authoritarianism, bemoaning the intrusion of shrill emotions into an ideally rational public sphere and worrying over the break-up of the putatively egalitarian social fabric into a congeries of incommensurable communities. The fact that such critics misrecognize the particular ("dispassionate") affective register in which liberal politics has always operated, or the myriad rational technologies and institutions that have long disciplined national sentiment, does not in any way mitigate the contemporary moral panic. This panel explores this current anxious moment by taking seriously public emotional performances as decidedly political acts. Drawing on contemporary conflicts over the lived parameters of democracy in the US, France, and India, the papers ethnographically tease out how situated moments of collective laughter, tears, anger, love, and fear can become powerful critiques of the hypocrisies of liberal regimes of equality and freedom which have historically privileged particular raced, classed, gendered, and sexed subjects – and how those so privileged have responded in equally emotive forms. In so doing, they draw on and contribute to an elaboration and critique of an anthropology of affect without losing sight of the material conditions and engagements underwriting contemporary identity movements.