Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Materiality
The rise in popularity of populist and authoritarian regimes and leaders has foregrounded the central role of emotion in politics. Memorials, religious, and economic practices reinforce and re-inscribe state legitimacy and authority. Our panel explores how states and political movements mobilize feeling and sensation to affirm their legitimacy across temporalities and landscapes, elucidating the intrinsic interconnectedness of affect and ideology. We need only remember the “veritable hurricane of public grief” (Mazzarella 2015: 91) in the wake of Kim Jong-Il’s death to see that displays of emotion are an essential part of political projects across the ideological spectrum. At a time when social media has redefined political participation, this entwinement of politics and affect has intensified in ways that existing literature has not addressed. Previous work on affect has justly condemned how it has been used to produce a politics of fear, focusing on the negating, debilitating, and restricting employment of political affects in authoritarian projects (Ahmed 2004; Massumi 1993). In contrast, we examine this relationship between affect and constriction, while also analyzing how authoritarian projects and authority in general, conscribe affective registers to intensify pleasures, increase potentialities, and capacitate partisans. This enabling and productive aspect of affect in politics is perhaps most obvious in the collective effervescence of rallies and protests. Yet, looking at affect as dispositions (Heidegger 1962), we are also interested in how ordinary citizens experience the relationship between affect and politics in daily life. Four decades ago, Raymond Williams called for a study of “structures of feeling” (1977). Two decades later, the emergence of Affect Studies filled a necessary gap in the humanities and social sciences by drawing attention to the vicissitudes of sensation and the sensuous corporeality of being. It is in the spirit of these past invitations to conceive of the world in sentimental and sensorial terms that we look to the current moment with attention to the role of feeling in politics. From Argentina, to Turkey, and the United States, papers focus on the role of emotion in the formation of political subjectivities in a variety of contexts. Examining how authority—and even authoritarianism—animate and are animated by affect, we argue that ideology is always affective and affect is always ideological. Thought through memorials of empire, militarized empathy, spirit mediumship, economically conditioned intimacy, and melodramatic populism, affect emerges a guiding principle of meaningful social action. Anthropology is particularly equipped to tackle this problem, as ethnographic inquiry has the potential to elucidate the interstices of feeling, thought, and practice. Anthropology uses the lexicon of “mana” to describe affecting experiences and states. Thus, anthropology is uniquely suited to foreground the explicitly political mobilization of affect in the era of Trump, Erdogan, and the War on Terror, as nationalist and populist sentiments redefine geopolitics, economic relations, and quotidian socialities. This panel is a timely intervention that foregrounds the inner-workings of power, coercion, force, and consent. Together, these five papers provide valuable ethnographic accounts of affect and authority that startle our liberal sensibilities, exposing the inherent emotionality of politics.