Sociotechnical Ensembles and Affective Labour: Against emotional management
Robert Seyfert, Universität Duisburg-Essen
With affect theory, a new paradigm has been introduced to the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies. In general, the concept of affect helps to improve the conceptual depth of forces traditionally been conceptualized as emotions. While emotions refer to forms of subjectification and a controlled emotional economy, affects are also inherently de-subjectifying forces. They describe the dissolution of the ego, transgression of the subject and moments of intensity (Deleuze, Massumi).
However, recent studies on ‘affective labour’ blurs the analytical distinction between affect and emotion. Authors (Hardt/Negri, Betancourt et al.) use affective labour to describe the control of individual feelings and the management of emotional expression by subjects such as employees and workers. However, this description essentially repeats Arlie Hochschild’s concept of ‘emotional labour’ which was articulated in her seminal study of the emotional management in the service industry. Moreover, such an understanding of affective labour relinquishes the decisive analytical potential of this concept.
I suggest a different understanding of affective labour, one that preserves the reference to affective de-subjectifications and transgressions. Affects transgress subjectification and thus render new social relations possible. As I will show, it is through the affective transgression of subjectification that new social relations are possible. My ethnographically-based analysis of automated stock market trading shows that activities in the socio-technical ensemble require the subject to immerse and abandon itself in order for the augmented socio-technical environment to function. Such intensive moments of transgression are the central mechanisms of affective labour. My paper will describe and analyse such affective moments in detail.
Robert Seyfert is a sociologist at the Department of Social Sciences at University Duisburg-Essen. His research focusses on affects and algorithms. He has published on theories of affect in Theory, Culture & Society and on algorithmic trading in Economy & Society. Together with Jonathan Roberge, he is also the co-editor of Algorithmic Cultures (Routledge, 2016).
The Pain of Populism: Negative affect and the crisis of representative democracy
Will Davies, Goldsmiths, University of London
Populist uprisings of the past year have raised the question of political emotion and affect afresh, turning attention towards anger, resentment and punishment as affective forces in post-industrial societies. Amidst this, morbidity and physical pain have appeared as possible ingredients of the turn away from liberalism. In the US, the geography of pain-killer addiction maps closely on to the map of Donald Trump’s electoral support. The number of people living with chronic pain has been climbing in the UK. This paper will consider how pain operates at the outer limits of the governable, undermining the very viability of liberal government, with its emphasis on quantification and representation.
Will Davis is a Reader in Political Economy at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Centre. He is the author of two books, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Sage, 2014) and The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing (Verso, 2015).
Towards a Critical Neurogeography of Affective Governance
Jessica Pykett, University of Birmingham
Brain- and behaviour-based explanations are increasingly valued for a range of social phenomena as diverse as learning, leadership, environmental sustainability, financial capability, public health and happiness. These explanations are evident in the spheres of educational neuroscience, positive psychology and affective neuroscience approaches to organisational management, and behaviourally-informed public policies currently being pursued by numerous governments around the world. In this paper I will provide an overview of these trends, providing an analysis of the ways in which particular behavioural ‘insights’ and neuroscientific discourse are used to justify affective forms of governance. I consider the ways in which governing through affect and governing affects serves to shape specifically psychoeconomic forms of subjectivity which are shorn of their geo-historical context. Whilst many contemporary social theorists of the politics of affect tend towards accounts which highlight the ‘suggestibility’ of subjects and the manipulative potential of affective governance, in this paper I argue that both the novelty and effectiveness of governing affects has been much overstated. Instead I offer the analytical tools of a critical neuro-geography in order to provide an empirical account of actually existing affective governing practices, patterns and relationships.
Jessica Pykett is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Birmingham, where she teaches on the social and political geographies of welfare, work and wealth. Her recent publications include Brain Culture: Shaping policy through neuroscience (Policy Press, Bristol – 2015), Emotional States: sites and spaces of affective governance (edited with Eleanor Jupp and Fiona Smith -2017), and Psychological Governance and Public Policy: governing the mind, brain and behaviour (edited with Mark Whitehead and Rhys Jones – 2017).
Immersive Power: Affective subjectivation in post-industrial work cultures
Rainer Mühlhoff, Freie Universität Berlin
In affect studies, a range of social and political phenomena are described in terms of affects and emotions. Proponents of the “turn to affect” see affect as a fundamental register of social relatedness, thereby often reacting to a perceived deadlock of deconstructionist and genealogical approaches in critical social theory, which are accused of a fixation on discourse and structure. Foucault’s critique of power and governmentality, too, has been faulted as blind to the role of affects in the constitution of subjectivity.
I argue that this dichotomization should be overcome to open the field for a much more interesting question: What is the interplay of affect, power and subjectivity? Turning to Baruch Spinoza’s relational ontology and its inbuilt concept of affect, affectivity can be conceptualized as a register of relational and productive power which is largely compatible with Foucault. Thus arguably, Foucault and Spinoza can be combined – each operating in the ‘blind spot’ of the other – to yield an understanding of what might be called “affective subjectivation”.
To showcase this approach, I analyse a concrete dispositif of power and subjectivation in terms of affective relationality: Contemporary work cultures in knowledge work jobs suggest how the maintenance of subliminal affective dynamics is used as a technique of workplace governance. There is a new modality of power evident in these regimes, which I refer to as “immersive power” as it supplements the older regimes of discipline and normalization. Finally turning to the question of critique of affective governance, I propose that the notions of subjectivity and subjectivation should be emphatically retained and reformulated – instead of abandoning them in the manner some post-humanist approaches suggest.
Rainer Mühlhoff is a Post-doc researcher in philosophy at the interdisciplinary Research Center Affective Societies at Free University of Berlin. His research interests are located in the areas of social philosophy, political philosophy of affect and critical theory of the digital age. In his dissertation “Immersive Power. Social Theory after Foucault and Spinoza”, he investigated the crossroads of theories of power, affect and subjectivity.
Affect in Control, Affect in Resistance
Martin Saar, Universität Leipzig
To theorize the “governing by affect” (or the “government of affect”) requires theorizing the relation between affectivity and politics. Recent debates in Affect Studies have proposed to look at this problem from a strictly relational point of view that understands affect as a non-individualist(ic) entity that can be easily described in non-personal or collective terms and that easily appears as political all the way down. While this is a promising trajectory to follow, I will argue that returning to one of the main sources of this debate, namely Spinoza’s affect theory and relational ontology might help to complicate things a little in a helpful way. His conception of the individual and its affective entanglement with others helps to theorize the tension and non-congruence between the individual and the collective dimension. This tension or field of struggle can be read in two directions: the collective affecting the individual side or the individual affecting the collective side. The individual (or subject) is marked by and shaped by its collective or political conditions (whe might call this “affective subjection”); but the collective or political entities can also be transformed or irrupted by affective forces coming from their smaller-scale parts, typically subjects (we might call this “affective transformation”). It seems necessary to account for both directions and not to deny the efficiency and reality of the first but neither to deny the possibly of the second, indeed they both seem the two irreducible sides of any “affective politics” or “affective subjectiviation”. Spinoza’s affect theory read in a certain way, I argue, is an early articulation of this double-edged, bivalent nature of the affective political subject, which makes him a proponent of a critical theory of affective subjectivation.
Martin Saar is professor of political theory in the department of political science at Universität Leipzig. He received his Ph.D. (philosophy) from the Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main in 2004 where he has taught for many years. He was a visiting scholar at the New School for Social Research in New York and has also taught in Hamburg, Bremen and at Humboldt University, Berlin. He has published widely in various fields of political theory, history of political thought and social philosophy – with focus on Spinoza, Nietzsche, Marx, Foucault, Critical Theory, Post-structuralism.
Between Politics and Ethics: The question of subjectivation
Judith Revel, Université Paris Nanterre
Judith Revel is full professor of contemporary philosophy at the Université Paris Nanterre, and member of the Sophiapol research team (EA 3932). She is a specialist of French and Italian thought after 1945. She is also member of the scientific boards of the IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine) and of the Collège International de Philosophie, and member of the Centre Michel Foucault. Last book published: Foucault avec Merleau-Ponty. Ontologie politique, présentisme et histoire, Paris, Vrin, 2015.
The Animality of Affect: Religion, Emotion, and Power
Donovan Schaefer, University of Oxford
Affect theory contributes to religious studies by expanding the scope of Michel Foucault’s “analytics of power,” examining not just formations of power-knowledge, but circuits of prelinguistic power-affect. However, the use of the term “affect” is highly varied. Affect theory can be divided into Deleuzian and phenomenological streams of thought—often infusing each other, but also separable. Where Deleuzian affect theorists tend to emphasize an affect that is radically pre-personal and therefore external to “experience,” phenomenological affect theorists are less confident about etching a line between the experiential and non-experiential domains. These approaches lead to different models of power-knowledge-affect (and of religion itself). I suggest that this discussion can be advanced by mapping the affective turn onto the animal turn, and in particular by deepening affect theory’s engagement with evolutionary biology. This does not mean countenancing biological determinism, but enfolding the hybrid dynamic of consistency and transformation that shapes biological organisms into the analytics of affect. Locating affect against the backdrop of species difference helps makes sense of the relationship between embodiment and affect, specifying the variegated ligaments connecting bodies to religions and other formations of power.
Donovan Schaefer is departmental lecturer in science and religion at the University of Oxford. His first book, Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power (Duke 2015) challenges the notion that religion is inextricably linked to language and belief, proposing instead that it is primarily driven by affects. He will be joining the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in fall 2017.
Critical Behavioral Public Policy. Nudge entrepreneurs and behavioral science in context
Robert Lepenies, Freie Universität Berlin
Behavioral and experimental approaches are progressively relied upon in a variety of policy fields. “Nudging” is increasingly institutionalized. Around the world, behavioral insights teams have been created while new behavioral policy organizations have gained influence. Normative critiques of nudging abound. Yet, only few commentators have studied how behavioral approaches are working in practice, how proponents legitimize their policy recommendations and methodological choices, and which intellectual sources proponents of behavioral policy draw upon. To evaluate behavioral approaches, complementary empirical and methodological research is needed. A research program in critical behavioral public policy could weave these normative and empirical strands together (a sketch of which will be presented in the talk). I will outline four aspects of contemporary behavioral public policy that of special import: nudge entrepreneurship, rapid institutionalization, scientistic legitimation strategies, and the intellectual background of behavioral advancements across different social sciences.
Robert Lepenies is Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies Justitia Amplificata at the Freie University Berlin (Institute of Philosophy). He is currently hosted by the KFG The Transformative Power of Europe. Here, he is preparing a research project on critical behavioral public policy. He is a visiting lecturer at the Hertie School of Governance in international economic thought. He taught philosophy at FU Berlin, and politics at ESCP Berlin. He was a post-doctoral fellow at the Max Weber Programme of the European University Institute in Florence, as well as at Yale University and the WZB. He holds a PhD in Governance from the Hertie School of Governance and is a member of the Global Young Academy.
Between subversion and submission. Affects, codes and subjectivation
What can be described as subversive in a time when people submit themselves voluntarily to the the dispositives of commodification and control and when progressive theory has abandoned the intentional subject? I will discuss to what extent the notion of affect in a Deleuzian-Spinozist line conceptualizes subjectivity in a way that acknowledges forms of affective governance but still allows to establish modes of agency and accountability.
Carolin Wiedemann studied Journalism, Communications, and Sociology in Paris and Hamburg and wrote a phd thesis about the question of subversion in times of digitization. She worked as a freelance writer for various German Media Outlets. Currently she is an editor at Frankfurter Allgemeine Quarterly and part of the editorial collective of Spheres, an online magazine about digital cultures at Leuphana University in Lüneburg.