Friday, 14 May 2010

Special Issue Extra: Interview with Lisa Blackman, Mike Featherstone and Couze Venn

The Body & Society Special Issue on Affect, edited by Lisa Blackman and Couze Venn, makes a major contribution to the now widespread interest in affect. Its aim is both to introduce readers to the key issues which have been the focus of debate over the last 20 years or so, and to present innovative approaches. These include the development of research on affect which addresses problems relating to sound, rhythm, belonging, body image, relationality, the work of Simondon, voice hearing and other aspects of non-conscious body/mind phenomena. The issue also doubles as the relaunch issue of the journal.

As a Special Issue Extra for the TCS Website, Simon Dawes has interviewed Lisa Blackman, Mike Featherstone and Couze Venn on this Special Issue on Affect and the relaunch of Body & Society. You can read an extract from the interview below, and you can see the full article here.

Simon Dawes: What is Affect?

Couze Venn: …Maybe someone out there knows what it is. A bit like gravity, we all experience it, we think we know what it is (because physics tells us), but it remains elusive, and difficult to pin down at the level of theory. So, there are many theories. Psychoanalysis has been playing around with it for ages, in recognition of the fact that human beings are a complicated mass of more than just flesh and circuits. Maybe all living beings are complex compositions of mind and matter joined up by stuff like affect, that is, some basic visceral way that makes communication from body to body possible. It would be something which appeared with life, as an aspect of what life is. Culture and history and development – scientists relate this to epigenesis, phylogenesis, and their dynamic interconnection in the process of somatic change and speciation and individuation – have added layers to this process, so that in real life, we communicate affect in the form of emotions. For humans, the development of a symbolic universe and a technical infrastructure has altered the operation and expression of affect, adding historicity to the process.

Some of us have been trying to use the concept of relationality to speak about the affective quality of life. This insists on the more-than-one character of all beings. So, we have the idea of dynamic co-emergence and co-constitution. We start with the view that there are always-already at least two, in reality many, and then work towards explaining individuals, or singularity. Affect comes into it because from the beginning some force – feeling if you wish, or a symbiotic process – functions to bind the one to the other and others. Or, indeed, affect is produced as part and parcel of the process of relating whereby beings exist at all. Physicists, when they run out of individual entities like electrons and positrons to explain how particles come together to form more complex entities, invent things like gluons to give an idea of forces that basically bind individual components, but we don’t know what they are because we only surmise their existence because of their effect in the process of relating, or gluing. Affect is maybe something that acts like that.

Lisa Blackman: I think we have been very careful and hesitant in providing a generic definition of affect as if we can understand affect as a thing, an object that we can uncover in any self-evident and unproblematic way. There are commonalities that link studies of affect, which are definitely encompassing a move to an examination and study of what we might call the non-conscious and the trans-subjective. However, affect points towards processes which are difficult to see in the conventional methodological sense, and which manifest in registers which have been occluded by work across the humanities which has developed from discursive, linguistic and post-structuralist approaches. We would rather ask the question what does affect do in our theorising rather than ask the question, what is affect? My own work is very influenced by genealogical thinking and I came to affect through my engagement with how the knowledge practices of early social psychology dealt with suggestion, or what became known as a mimetic paradigm. Suggestion, as we find in the work of Gabriel Tarde, was considered an ordinary mechanism of how we bond and how ideas, practices, beliefs and even emotions are transmitted, such that what we see is a more relational conception of subjectivity. I became interested in what happened to this conception as it became taken up and transformed within the psychological sciences and an engagement with what we might call affect is central to understanding these transformations.


For more on what affect is, how it has shaped the work of the editors and which texts they regard as the most significant, go here to read the full interview

Go here to see the table of contents for the Special Issue or here to access the articles

TCS and B & S are published by SAGE.


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