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Affecting feminism: Questions of feeling in feminist theory


Carolyn Pedwell and Anne Whitehead
Feminist Theory 2012 13: 115
DOI: 10.1177/1464700112442635
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Introduction

Affecting feminism:
Questions of feeling in
feminist theory

Feminist Theory
13(2) 115129
! The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/1464700112442635
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Carolyn Pedwell and Anne Whitehead


Newcastle University, UK

This special issue engages with the relationship between feminist theory and the
aective turn. Through their analyses of a range of aective states, spheres
and sites, the authors in this volume pose critical questions regarding feminist
theoretical engagements with aect, emotion and feeling.1 They ask whether it is
necessarily a positive move to put aect theory and feminist theory together,
or whether there are inherent risks, for example of depoliticisation, or of an
over-privileging of the individual; whether feminist theorists have made, or can
make, distinctive contributions to conceptualising aect; and what particular
insights feminist theory can bring to bear. In dierent ways, the authors featured
here consider how we can understand the complex implications of the turn to aect
in and for feminist theory, and how we might examine its potentialities for theoretical, political and social transformation.

Feminist theory and the affective turn


While the aective turn has gained signicant currency over the last decade, it is
nonetheless dicult to dene as it has come to signify a range of dierent, and
sometimes contradictory, movements and articulations. As a transdisciplinary
intellectual shift emerging out of the textual turn, it represents an intensication
of interest in emotions, feelings, and aect (and their dierences) as objects of
scholarly inquiry (Cvetkovich, 2012: 133). Challenging the scientic superiority
of detached reason and objective observation over the emotional and the
subjective (Greco and Stenner, 2008: 5), theorists associated with the textual
turn paved the way for a resurgence of empirical and theoretical interest in emotions (2008: 5). Feminist scholars have been at the heart of these engagements with
aect, in part, because, for some, feminism itself is a politics suused with feelings,

Corresponding author:
Anne Whitehead, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University, Newcastle
upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK
Email: anne.whitehead@ncl.ac.uk

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passions and emotions (Gorton, 2007: 333), but also one that has long recognised
the critical links between aect and gendered, sexualised, racialised and classed
relations of power.
A number of feminist and queer theorists have been highly inuential in the eld
of aect studies, including Ann Cvetkovich (1992, 2003), Judith Butler (1997,
2004), Lauren Berlant (1997, 2008), Ranjana Khanna (2003), Eve Kosofsky
Sedgwick (2003), Teresa Brennan (2004), Sara Ahmed (2004, 2010), Clare
Hemmings (2005, 2011) and Sianne Ngai (2005). While these critics draw on a
diverse range of theoretical sources, encompassing Michel Foucault, Karl Marx,
Luce Irigaray, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Raymond Williams, Erving
Goman, Silvan Tomkins and Gilles Deleuze, they all explore the way feeling is
negotiated in the public sphere and experienced through the body (Gorton, 2007:
334). This increasing engagement with the political, cultural, economic and
psychoanalytic implications of aect and emotion both reects and engages with
a wider emotionalisation of society in which emotions are imagined to provide a
privileged source of truth about the self and its relations with others and there is a
perceived growth in the range and intensity of emotions and emotional expressions
in the public sphere (Swan, 2008: 89).2 In the context of transnational capitalism,
feminist and other critical theories of aect have been employed alongside
Foucauldian notions of biopolitics to examine the politics of subject formation
and neoliberal forms of governmentality.3 Aective frameworks also gure
centrally in feminist and postcolonial analyses of the embodied and psychical
legacies of colonialism and slavery, as well as the emotional politics of contemporary forms of nation building, migration and multiculturalism.4 Notwithstanding
their dierences, these analyses are linked by a concern with how power circulates
through feeling and how politically salient ways of being and knowing are
produced through aective relations and discourses.
Yet, if the textual turn saw emotions primarily as discursive dialogical phenomena, some scholars associated with the aective turn interrogate the limitations of
approaches which assume that aect can only be analysed as, or within, discourse
and thus bracket out all pre- or extra discursive reality (Greco and Stenner, 2008:
9).5 For these theorists, aect describes visceral forces beneath, alongside, or
generally other than conscious knowing, vital forces insisting beyond emotion
(Gregg and Siegworth, 2010: 1). Most dynamically, it signies potential: a
bodys capacity to aect and be aected (2010: 2; original italics). From this perspective, the aective turn has represented a shift away from the text and discourse
as key theoretical touchstones and a vital re-centring of the body (2010: 9). Within
these approaches, aect is positioned as a productive concept and framework for
grasping transformations, potentialities and unpredictable connections between
bodies (Greco and Stenner, 2008: 11). Aect thus cannot be reduced to either
discourse or emotion, but rather exceeds these categories; it is a material intensity that emerges via the in-between spaces of embodied encounters, circulating
power not primarily as a mode of discursive regulation but rather as the potential
to become otherwise (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994).

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The aective turn is, from this standpoint, closely linked to other putative conceptual shifts, such as the ontological turn and the new materialism. Monica
Greco and Paul Stenner note, for example, that invoking aect is closely related . . . to the call for a post-deconstructive rethinking of ontology. The shift from
text to aect thus parallels a shift in emphasis from epistemological questions to
questions as to the nature of (pre-discursive) realities (2008: 10).6 It also dovetails
with both mainstream and feminist calls to bring serious attention (back) to the
substance and signicance of matter, materiality and the body. An inuential
strand of this work draws on shifts towards ontology and materiality to reconceptualise the changing nature of the social in a context in which politics, economy
and culture are presently being recongured dierently across various regions of
the world (Clough, 2007: 2). Patricia Clough accordingly argues that the turn to
aect marks the way these historical changes are indicative of the changing global
processes of accumulating capital and employing labor power through the deployment of technoscience to reach beyond the limitations of the human body, or what
is called life itself (2007: 2). Theories of aect and the deployment of aective
capacity are valuable at this conjuncture, she suggests, to grasp the changes that
constitute the social and to explore them as changes in ourselves, circulating
through our bodies, our subjectivities, yet irreducible to the individual, the personal
and the psychological (Clough, 2007: 3). In this way, the aective turn can be seen
to involve a move away from key concepts such as discourse, epistemology and
culture and towards thought, ontology and materiality.
Several feminist and queer theorists have seen such directions in aect theory as
both exciting and productive and have taken a leading role in exploring their transformative implications. For example, in Touching Feeling (2003), Sedgwick calls for a
reprivileging of ontology through a critical focus on aect, which she understands as
integral to accessing life that exceeds the social regulation of our existence.
Furthermore, Elizabeth Grosz frames her book, The Nick of Time: Politics,
Evolution, and the Untimely, as a reminder to feminists, amongst others, that we
have forgotten the nature, the ontology of the body, the conditions under which
bodies are enculturated, psychologized, given identity, historical location, and
agency (Grosz, 2005a: 2).7 Interweaving aective, ontological and new materialist
agendas in the companion text, Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power Grosz argues
for the importance of developing a politics of imperceptibility, leaving its traces and
eects everywhere but never being able to be identied with a person, group or organization (Grosz, 2005b: 194). Such a framework, Grosz suggests, might allow feminists
to develop a politics of acts, not identities (2004b: 186).8 From this perspective,
feminist theory might most productively explore aects less for how they dominate,
regulate or constrain individual subjects and more for the possibilities they oer for
thinking (and feeling) beyond what is already known and assumed.9
Feminist scholars, however, have also been attentive to the risks of certain
mobilisations of the aective turn. In particular, theorists examine how rhetoric
employed to position aect theory as novel and groundbreaking can elide or
narrow in dening feminist histories of knowledge production. In an inuential

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article, Clare Hemmings argues that constituting theories of aect as the new
cutting edge has involved rewriting the recent history of cultural theory in ways
that atten out poststructuralist inquiry by ignoring the counter hegemonic contributions of postcolonial and feminist theorists (Hemmings, 2005: 548). In this
special issue, Hemmings engages with Sedgwicks (2003) contention that, within
poststructuralist critical approaches, the ontological (life and dierence) is routinely subsumed to the epistemological (social ordering of power and knowledge)
(Hemmings, 2012: 148). She argues that in characterising epistemology as a rather
blunt theory of knowledge and bracketing out ontology from social, political or
historical considerations, work carried out in the name of the ontological turn
rather curiously instantiates the opposition it critiques (Hemmings, 2012: 149).
Similarly, Ahmed argues that the new materialism frames itself as new, in part,
through making claims about feminist theorys ongoing failure to engage with the
matter and materiality of the body, in spite of its long genealogy (2008: 25). For
Ahmed then, we should avoid establishing a new terrain by clearing the ground of
what has come before us. And we might not be quite so willing to deposit our hope
in the category of the new (2008: 36).10 While aect theory provides a valuable
resource to interrogate long-held assumptions and think social and political life
dierently, such openings are not framed productively (or accountably) through
an elision of the critical and diverse contributions of feminist, postcolonial and
queer analysis.
In this vein, Cvetkovich begins her piece in this volume by expressing her reluctance to use the term aective turn because it implies that there is something new
about the study of aect when in fact this work has been going on for quite some
time. She highlights the inception of the Public Feelings project (2001), in particular, as the outcome of many years of engagement with the shifting fortunes of the
feminist mantra that the personal is political, as it has shaped theoretical and
political practices and their relation to everyday life (Cvetkovich, 2012: 133).
Moreover, Ranjana Khanna suggests that in the work of theorists such as
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, as well as Clough, aect is gestured towards
rather vaguely, and this diculty in ascribing it any content means that concepts
such as aective labour, originally and ultimately a feminist concept, are analysed
primarily in terms of the ties they could generate rather than the labour they
involve. While Khanna is sympathetic to the idea of aects movement beyond
the subject, beyond expressiveness, and beyond perceptibility, she worries that the
suspicion of content that is quite typical of the ontological approach, sometimes
manifests itself as a dismissal of feminist notions of labour, or the way in which the
woman has become enframed as a certain mode of being (Khanna, 2012: 216). In
exploring the alternative ways of thinking aect theory oers, these scholars suggest, feminist analyses are of most critical value when they attend reexively both to
what might be gained and lost through claiming a new conceptual paradigm.
The authors in this special issue straddle and interweave these dierent strands
of the aective turn in novel and cogent ways. All, however, engage carefully with
genealogies of feminist analysis of emotion and aect. In imagining how we might

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think radically otherwise, feminist theory has always sought to journey beyond the
status quo; yet, as this collection illustrates, its political work is also pursued
invaluably and imaginatively through exploring the undetonated political
potential of what has been declared outmoded or anachronistic (Freeman, 2010).
Tracing the ambivalent and shifting experiences, implications and eects of
emotions and aects, within and across a range of social and theoretical terrains,
the contributions here seek to oer ways of thinking the feminist politics of aect
that are both open-facing and accountable.

Knowing through feeling


Feminist theorists have long been concerned with the relationships between aect,
knowledge and power. Fundamental in this regard have been their eorts to interrogate the gendered nature of the reason/emotion binary. Throughout the history
of Western thought, language and ethics, this dualism has functioned to exclude
women (and other bodies outside the white, masculine mainstream) from legitimate knowledge production.11 As Moira Gatens (1996) argues, the concept of
rationality (one of the key historical criteria for political participation and other
citizenship rights) has been dened in opposition to the qualities typically thought
to correlate with femininity and the female body. In this context, feminist theorists
have played a crucial role in highlighting the signicance of aect and emotion to
critiques of positivism and the presumed role of objectivity in knowledge production.12 Through eshing out the critical imbrications of location, embodiment and
knowledge, these thinkers not only illustrate the impossibility of objective knowledge detached from embodied location, but also explore the potential for aect to
provide dierent, and potentially transformative, ways of knowing. As Hemmings
notes, feminist theory has illustrated potently that in order to know dierently, we
have to feel dierently (2012: 150).
Along with Whitehead and Pedwell, Hemmings focuses specically on the potentialities and risks of knowing through empathy in relation to feminist theory and
praxis. While empathy has recently become a buzz-word across a range of academic
and mainstream sites, it has a longer history in feminist debates about epistemology,
politics and transformation. As Hemmings notes, for a range of feminist theorists
empathy has signied the importance of feeling as knowledge; it opens a window on
the experiences of others and stresses their importance for an ethical feminist epistemology (2012: 151). Nonetheless, all three authors are concerned with the potentially problematic associations made between empathetic knowledge and truth. In
her reading of Sindiwe Magonas novel Mother to Mother (1998), Whitehead considers how the text critiques the mobilisation of empathy by the South African Truth
and Reconciliation Commission in the service of nation-building agendas. In
Pedwells discussion of discourses of aective (self)-transformation in international
development literatures, she argues that, through conceptualising face-to-face
encounters between development professionals and poor people in developing
contexts as oering access to felt truth, development discourses risk severing

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empathy from both processes of imagination and structural relations of power. For
both Whitehead and Pedwell, then, emotions are conceptualised most productively
not as aective lenses on truth or reality, but rather as one important (embodied) circuit through which power is felt, imagined, mediated, negotiated and/or
contested (Pedwell, 2012b).
From Hemmings perspective, current framings of empathy remain inadequate
to [the] task of developing an aective solidarity in feminist praxis because they
continue to privilege ontology over and above the negotiation of the relationship
between ontology and epistemology (2012: 152). In other words, they seek to
extract the truth of our being in the world from the relations of power that
condition our descriptions and understandings of it, rather than examining their
mutual intertwinement. For Hemmings, however, it is precisely in the gap between
the ontological and the epistemological that the transformative spark of aective
politics might be ignited. Moving away from a focus on empathy as a privileged
way of connecting with others, Hemmings considers the political potential of
aective dissonance through a reconsideration of feminist standpoint epistemology. In her re-imagining, standpoint describes not just marginal experience and the
critique of dominant knowledge, but the process of moving from aective dissonance to . . . aective solidarity (maybe even one that includes empathy) (2012: 157).
Thus, while all the authors in this volume are deeply interested in the genealogies
and potentialities of aective knowledge, they are nonetheless attentive to the
risks of perspectives that slide towards equating knowing through aect as
oering access to being or truth outside of histories and structures of power
and representation.

Emotional transformation
As the preceding discussion suggests, feminist theorists have for many years
explored the role of aect in both oppression and political transformation.
Fleshing out the links between emotion, power and embodiment, scholars such
as Audre Lorde (1984) and Iris Marion Young (1990) illustrated how the work
of oppression is often carried out at an aective level. Other feminist theorists have
built on these important frameworks to examine how power works through aect
to shape individual and social bodies (Ahmed, 2000). Megan Boler traces how, in
patriarchal culture, we learn emotional rules that help to maintain societys particular hierarchies of gender, race and class (Boler, 1999: xxi). Similarly, Ahmed
(2004) considers how emotions can attach us to the very conditions of our subordination (Ahmed, 2004: 12). From Ahmeds perspective, one of the reasons that
social transformation is so dicult to achieve, that relations of power are so
intractable and enduring, even in the face of collective forms of resistance, is the
strength of our aective attachments to social norms (2004: 1112, see also Butler,
1997). Feminist engagement with aective politics thus requires attention to
the ways in which feelings can (re)produce dominant social and geo-political
hierarchies and exclusions.

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Of course, feminist theorists have also been interested in the relationships


between aect, solidarity and resistance. As Boler argues, if emotions are a primary site of control they are also a site of political resistance and can mobilize
movements for liberation (1999: xiii). The political travels of the second-wave
feminist slogan the personal is political provide a case in point. In calling attention
to the political nature and implications of intimate relations within the home and
the family, including womens emotional labour, feminist praxis in the 1970s and
1980s mobilising under this banner challenged the privatization and pathologizing
of emotions (Boler, 1999: xiv). Boler credits the womens liberation movement
(which drew from the civil rights movement) and feminist pedagogy with developing the rst collectively articulated feminist politics of emotion, particularly
through practices of consciousness-raising (1999: xi).13 The impact of this feminist
theory and activism remains salient across many spheres of contemporary feminist
praxis. As Cvetkovich highlights in her contribution to this volume, the personal
voice has persisted as an important part of feminist scholarship, enabled, if not also
encouraged, by theorys demand that intellectual claims be grounded in necessarily
partial and local positionalities (2012: 133). Yet in this volume, as in her earlier
work, Cvetkovich is also attentive to some of the more vexed eects of feminist
eorts to frame the personal as political. In Mixed Feelings (1992), she argued that
feminist theorys shift towards the personal saw forms of aective healing associated with personal and intimate relations increasingly framed as solutions to
complex collective and social problems. Lauren Berlant (1997, 2008) has also
been an important voice in analysing how a focus on healing via the emotional
and the personal can replace (and indeed eace) attention to the structural causes
of suering. For both Berlant and Cvetkovich, feminist enthusiasm for the possibilities of community, solidarity and change associated with the force of aect must
thus be tempered with acknowledgement of the persistent diculty of generating
structural transformation through projects of collective feeling.
Rather than privileging the personal or the emotional above and beyond the
structural, recent feminist approaches have analysed their complex imbrication.
From Ahmeds perspective, exploring this intertwinement of the aective and the
structural requires that we examine both the structure of feelings (Williams, 1977),
and the feelings of structure. Indeed, she suggests, feelings might be how structures get under our skin (2010: 216). In this respect, analyses like Ahmeds remain
indebted to the groundbreaking work of feminist sociologists such as Arlie
Hochschild. In her classic text, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of
Human Feeling (1983), she argued that feelings themselves are subject to management in both private and public contexts, and that such emotion work could be
commercially exploited as emotional labour. Hochschilds work was crucial in
contributing to budding theories of the social construction of emotions, and later
analyses of their performative circulation in the context of gendered, classed, racialised and sexualised relations of power. It was also prescient in tracing the links
between emotion, global capitalism and neoliberalism later eshed out by key
scholars such as Nikolas Rose (1989, 1996), as well as laying the groundwork for

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analyses of their gendered articulation in relation to concepts of aective labour


(Adkins, 2002; Swan, 2008). In this volume, Pedwell considers how feminist and
anti-racist notions of aective transformation might be reconceptualised when relations of postcoloniality and neoliberalism are foregrounded (2012a). Her analysis
of aective narratives in international development literatures suggests that when
empathy is understood as entailing a process of humanising through individualising, it can divert attention away from analysis of wider structures of power
which condition transnational encounters. Feminist engagements with feelings,
these contributions suggest, tell us most about the aective workings of contemporary power when they illuminate the complex and shifting co-constitution of
emotional subjectivities and encounters and socio-political and economic structures
and relations.
Although the contributors to this volume share Berlants view that shifts in the
aective atmosphere are not equal to a changing world, like her, they also remain
committed to thinking about how emotion and aect might be related to the ways
in which radical rupture, change and transformation emerge (2010: 116). For
Cvetkovich, thinking through aect and attending to public feelings can open
up new ways of doing feminist and cultural theory that move past the work of
critique or the exposure of social constructions. Analysing depression as a public
feelings project linked to structural legacies of colonialism, slavery and racism, she
suggests, might help to trace aective materialities that not only oer alternatives
to a medical understanding of depression, but may also produce new vocabularies
of hope and happiness that nonetheless avoid na ve optimism that does not
address the past and its violence adequately and that is too easily celebratory
(2012: 143). As such, Cvetkovichs analysis of depression is resonant with
Ahmeds recent exploration of happiness. When happiness is not automatically
presumed to be a good thing or what we should aim for, Ahmed suggests, it
becomes possible to conceive of happiness as a possibility among others. Such a
stance allows us to consider how unhappiness might sometimes work as a form of
political action: the act of saying no or of pointing out injuries as an ongoing
present arms something, right from the beginning (Ahmed, 2010: 207). It also
enables us to value happiness for its precariousness, for the unexpected openings
and shimmers of possibility it might create, rather than something we expect to
occur when we get what we already knew we wanted (Ahmed, 2010: 219).
From Hemmings perspective, aect is what sustains feminism and gives it life.
In her discussion of the politicising potential of aective dissonance she suggests
that politics can be characterised as that which moves us, rather than that which
conrms us in what we already know (2012: 151). Similarly, both Pedwell and
Whitehead explore the relationships between imagination, aect and change.
Imagination, Pedwell argues, is necessary to interrupt assumptions of commensurability, transparency and felt truth which characterise international development
discourse in the neoliberal compassion economy. For Whitehead, in performatively
enacting its own distinction from the modes of aective testimony and engagement
privileged by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mother to Mother

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illustrates that literature is an imaginative mode of encounter that can open up


dierent kinds of attachments to others (2012: 192). As will be explored in the next
section, both Khanna and Robin Stoate explore the transformative possibilities of
feminist and other critical articulations of aects movement beyond the subject,
and the productive modes of relationality that might emerge through thinking
(and feeling) aect in terms of mobility.

Travelling affects
In recent aect theory, aect has notably been represented by inuential gures as
mobile, creative, and unpredictable in its eects. Sedgwick has been central to these
claims for aect theorys creative potentiality. Sedgwick marked her engagement
with aect, and her theoretical inspiration within the eld, in the publication of a
co-edited reader of the work of psychologist Silvan Tomkins (19111991)
(Sedgwick and Frank, 1995). This volume at once positioned Tomkins as central
to current debates on aect, and provided the groundwork for Sedgwicks subsequent key publication, Touching Feeling (2003). Sedgwick drew upon Tomkins
categorisation of an identiable range of nine universally shared emotions in
order to elaborate the key aects for her own theoretical project, namely shame
and anger. Centrally, Sedgwick also drew from Tomkins a conceptual model by
which aect attaches itself randomly and unexpectedly to a range of subjects and
objects; the creative unfolding of aect was gured by her as a form of contagion.
Hemmings (2005) signicantly interrogated this strand of aect theory in relation to feminist thought. Turning her critical gaze not only on Sedgwick, but also
on the related work of Deleuze (1997) and Massumi (2002), she questioned whether
aect was as freely and creatively mobile as these thinkers suggest. Reading work
on aect alongside critical race theory by Frantz Fanon (1991) and Lorde (1984),
Hemmings argued that aect does not circulate freely but tends to travel along
already dened lines of cultural investment. Certain (gendered, raced, sexed) subjects accordingly become the objects of others aective responses. Hemmings aptly
noted: only for certain subjects can aect be thought of as attaching in an open
way; others are so over-associated with aect that they themselves are the object of
aective transfer (2005: 561). For Hemmings, then, it is not that aect should be
rejected outright in its relation to feminist theory; rather, claims for its autonomy
and free circulation should be subjected to critique, and she urges us to look
beyond the contemporary fascination with aect as outside social meaning
(2005: 565). A key strand of interest in many of the articles that follow has been
to take up Hemmings challenge, and to realign aect with the social.
Hemmings commitment to a feminist theorising of aect in relation to social
meaning is in close dialogue with Ahmed (2004). The latters nuanced exploration
of the mobility of aect seeks to trace out how emotion moves culturally and where
it sticks, so that aect is bound not only to mobility but also to various forms or
modes of attachment. Moving beyond what she herself terms the inside out model
of psychology, and the outside in model proered by sociology and anthropology,

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Ahmeds focus is on the sociality of emotion (2004: 9). According to this model,
there is no pre-existing inside or outside; rather, emotions create the very eect of
the surfaces and boundaries that allow us to distinguish an inside and an outside in
the rst place (2004: 10). At both an individual and cultural level, emotions are
crucial to the very constitution of the psychic and social as objects; aect is not
in, or indeed outside of the individual or the social, but the very circulation of
emotion allows dierent objects or bodies to take shape for us (2004: 10). Central
to Ahmeds work, then, is a focus on surfaces and boundaries (both personal and
cultural) as the eects of the circulation of aect, which is thereby rendered as for
Hemmings not random or arbitrary, but subject to particular sticking points or
sites of tension.
Several of the articles in this special issue explicitly address the question of how
aect travels within and across cultures, situating feminist debates about emotion
and intimacy within international, transnational, cross-cultural, and cross-racial
contexts. Cvetkovich provides a rich exploration of whether the particular aect
of depression could be said to travel along racial lines. Whitehead similarly questions whether the persistent after-eects of South African apartheid can be tied to
aects tendency to stick at sites of cultural tension. Her reading of Mother to
Mother considers what might be gained by a refusal of aective identication on
the part of those who are, to return to Hemmings, over-associated with aect
(2005: 561). Pedwell examines the literal movement or travel involved in
Immersion programmes, and asks whether the rhetoric of aective mobility
that underpins these journeys risks reinforcing already existing cultural lines of
power; again, if this is the case, how might we develop a critically constructive
approach to empathy within the transnational context? Across each of these
articles, there is a common concern with how aects can speak of, if not shape,
social meaning; and with how cultural boundaries with their very tangible
economic, social and political eects might be regarded as themselves eects
of the cultural circulation, or perhaps more properly accumulation and sedimentation, of emotion.
Other articles in the volume pick up on and interrogate another key strand of the
travelling of aect as it has emerged in feminist theory; namely how aect inects
ideas of the subject or subjectivity, and notions of the human. If aect travels
beyond conventional boundaries of the subject or the human, what might the
implications be both for how we think of ourselves, and for how we conceive of the
non-human (the machine, the animal)? This aspect of the feminist turn to aect
is bound to wider debates around ontology, embodiment and the neurosciences,
and what these might mean for feminist theory and politics. Donna Haraway is a
central gure in relation to these debates: her early work on the cyborg has been
supplemented by recent reections on the contingency of subjectivity inspired by
the bonding of dogs and people (Haraway, 1991, 2008). In the past few years,
feminist theorising of the body has sought to engage with the implications of
aect conceptualised as pre-individual forces, which either recongure the body
as technology (Clough, 2007) or open up feminist theories of the body to

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contemporary neuroscience, posing questions about our relation to the animal and
the material (Wilson, 2004). In both cases, whether the impetus is towards the
mechanical or the creaturely aspects of ourselves, there is a turn away from conventional psychoanalytically informed conceptions of subject identity in the
former, the move is towards an engagement with non-organic life and information
systems; while in the latter, it is typically towards Darwin, or towards Freuds early
neuroscientic conceptions of the body which predated hysteria.
In this special issue, these debates are central to the articles by Stoate
and Khanna. Drawing centrally on Haraway, Stoates reading of Duncan
Joness science ction lm Moon (2009) interrogates the boundary between
human and machine through the gure of the caring computer. If computers
can care, Stoate asks, how does this recongure our notion of the putatively articial subject? What, too, does it imply about care, in terms of the kinds of aective
relationalities that it can inaugurate? Khanna also focuses on aect and technology; or, more precisely, aect as a form of technology. She turns to Wilsons (2004)
reworking of Freud to argue that this oers a model of psychoanalysis as technology that answers Cloughs rejection of the psychoanalytic as exclusively concerned
with the organic. For Khanna, this reconceptualisation of aect as technology
displaces its relation to the subject; aect registers in her article as a surplus or
excess to the subject, which challenges its stability and boundaries. For both
authors, although they work with very diering conceptions of the subject, aect
represents at once an undoing and a potential opening out towards alterity.
Finally, aect can also be said, in the context of this special issue, to travel
across various modes of textual representation; the articles accordingly move
across the genres of novel, lm and development literatures. It is striking that
many of the texts discussed in this volume seem themselves to have notably uid
and open generic boundaries. Saidiya Hartmans Lose Your Mother (2007),
discussed by Cvetkovich, is poised between the genres of research scholarship,
slave history, memoir, travel narrative and family history. Magonas Mother to
Mother is likewise uneasily positioned between novel, testimony, memoir, biography, autobiography, letter and diary. Shirin Neshats work, analysed by
Khanna, plays across the genres of lm, portrait photography and video, to powerful and destabilising eect. We do not wish to claim that these more experimental
texts are a privileged or reied mode for representing aect, which circulates across
all modes of cultural production. Nevertheless, there is arguably something about
these particularly porous textual bodies, which call attention to their own boundaries and surfaces, that urges us to think about, and to imagine, ways of inhabiting
aect dierently.
Notes
1. This special issue arose from two international conferences organised under the banner
Affecting Feminism The Cultural Politics of Care, Compassion and Empathy (May
2010) and Feminist Theory and the Question of Feeling (December 2010) by Anne
Whitehead, Carolyn Pedwell, Stacy Gillis, and Bob Stoate on behalf of Newcastle

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126

2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.

13.

Feminist Theory 13(2)

Universitys Gender Research Group, the School of English Literature, Language and
Linguistics, and the School of Arts and Cultures. The second event was co-hosted by
Feminist Theory and marked the re-launch of the journal in its new institutional home at
Newcastle University.
See also Rose, 1989, 1996.
Adkins, 2002; Ong, 2006; Fraser and Bedford, 2008; Pedwell, 2012b.
Cheng, 2001; Gunew, 2003; Khanna, 2003; Fortier, 2008; Puar, 2008.
See also Deleuze, [1968] 2004; Deleuze and Guattari, 1994; Massumi, 2002; Clough,
2007; Gregg and Siegworth, 2010.
See also Sedgwick, 2003; Thrift, 2007; Coole and Frost, 2010.
See also Sedgwick and Frank, 1995; Barad, 2003; Wilson, 2004.
See also Grosz, 2011.
See Colebrook, 2001.
For a response to Ahmed see Davis, 2009.
Lloyd, 1984; Young, 1990; Grosz, 1994; Gatens, 1996.
Gilligan, 1982; Lorde, 1984; Abu-Lughod, 1986; Jaggar, 1989; Braidotti, 1991, 2006;
Haraway, 1991; Harding, 1991; Hill Collins, 1991; Code, 1993; Stanley and Wise, 1993;
Hemmings, 2011.
See also Young, 1990.

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