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Affective Transformations: Politics. Algorithms. Media.

November 1 – 3, 2017

Event — International conference focusing on the emergence of »affective media« (i.e. technologies capable of processing affect) and the simultaneous social and political transformations engendered by uncontrollable »media affects« like hate speech and public shaming etc.

The affective turn has recently come under pressure. The fascination with all things affective that emerged during the 1990s and peaked in the first decade of the 21st century has lost its former innocence and euphoria. Affect Studies and its adjacent disciplines have now to prove that they can cope with the return of the affective real that technology, economy and politics entail.

Two seemingly contradictory developments will be picked up as starting points for the conference. First, innovations in advanced disciplines such as affective computing, mood tracking, sentiment analysis, psycho-informatics and social robotics all share a focus on the recognition and modulation of human affectivity. Mechanisms like individual affect regulation or emotion management are being increasingly transferred onto personal digital devices. These algorithmic technologies collect affective data, process them and nudge users into normalized behavior and patterns of feeling. Affect gets measured, calculated, controlled.

Secondly, recent developments in politics, social media usage and journalism have contributed to an conspicuous rise of hate speech, cybermobbing, public shaming, »felt truths« and resentful populisms. In a very specific way, politics as well as power have become affective. In light of the rise of neo-nationalisms, religious and conspiratorial fanaticisms and presidentially decreed patriotism, the question what affective politics does, can or should mean attains an unparalleled urgency. Affects gets mobilized, fomented, unleashed.

We thus witness, on the one hand, the emergence of what we propose to call »affective media«, i.e. technologies and applications that rationalize affects by processing them algorithmically. On the other hand, we observe that (social) media affects become irrational and seem to have disruptive effects on the political as well as social order of (not only) Western democracies. These two developments appear to be linked. For example, while social media echo chambers are part of the affective media spectrum, their effects are very real and are radically altering our socio-political landscapes (e.g. Brexit, US election). What was invented to control affect has furthered uncontrollability on a potentially global scale.

By assembling scholars from different fields of research who have devoted a significant part of their careers to the question of affectivity, we want to examine this apparent paradox and put the emphasis on its historical, transformational nature. When the ways we deal with our affectivity get unsettled in such a dramatic fashion, we obviously have to rethink our ethical, aesthetical, political as well as legal regimes of affect organization. This is not just a purely academic task, but rather an issue of responsibility.

The conference will be organized by the research network »Affect- and Psychotechnology Studies«, a collaboration of researchers from such diverse fields as philosophy, media studies, psychology, sociology, and law. The network was founded in 2015 out of an impulse to critically engage with the manifold implications of emerging affect-related technologies, and is currently funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation). The Potsdam conference will mark the end of the first phase of its research agenda.

Program will be announced shortly.

Location:

University of Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais

Conception:

Marie-Luise Angerer and Bernd Bösel