Locating Affect: On the Ambivalence of Affective Situatedness

March 31, 2018

Call for Papers — For Participation at the »Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory« published on 31.03.2018
The affective and emotional dimensions of sociality have received renewed attention during the past two decades. For the most part, affect has been conceptualized as a matter of timing and eventfulness, epitomized by investigations into perceptual delays (the famous »missing half second«), movements, and interaction dynamics.  This call for papers follows up on the affective turn but by asking instead how this »timing of affect« (Angerer, Bösel and Ott 2014) is or can be spatialized and located.
Our aim is not to play temporal theories of the affective off against spatial ones, but rather to bring the spatio- temporality of affect into such a focus that we can connect it to empirical work on space and place on the one hand, and to spatial concepts in political and social theory on the other hand. However, we do accept a minimal definition of affect as relationality that in in our opinion precedes the question of spatialization and temporalization. Affect, it can be argued, allows for studying the materiality as well as the potentiality of dis-/connections (Barad 2003; Berlant 2012). The relational intensity is occurring in the momentary relatedness of diverse elements, in which all participants are affected and affecting, sending and receiving at the same time.
This integrative loop has been conceptualized as a resonance chamber (Massumi 2007; Seyfert 2014), thereby describing the affective process in either spatial or extensive forms. Another spatial understanding of affect is proposed by the neurosciences. In taking the plasticity of the brain or body as a biological precondition of feeling, affect itself is modeled as being constitutively plastic (Angerer 2014; Blackman 2012). Even the terms force or transmission as attributes of affect have their spatial connotations: a force or transmission takes effect on something from somewhere. Thus, rather than asking for affect’s extension in an absolute space, the question might be better framed by asking for its place or location across different understandings of space.
Some authors have come to describe affective place-making as resulting from the movement of (non-)humans through space and time (Ahmed 2006, 11), or from the distribution of virtual, habitual practices (Bissell 2015, 130); others argue that it is placed in a more abstract topological space or »phase space« (Massumi 1995), going beyond any Euclidian representation of space. Against this background, the notion of atmospheres (Anderson 2009) seem to be of descriptive value for affect studies precisely because of their intuitive physicality – something that I can enter and that could attune or afford me – and could thus be useful for more phenomenologically inclined research. In addition, processes of affection have been compared to socio-technical infrastructuring. The manipulation of affect as »a set of constantly performing relays and junctions« (Thrift 2007, 172) provides the background of emotional geographies that are as important for social relations as the infrastructural hardware. Because affects seem to take place at the intersection of potentiality and material actualization, it is the generative moments, in which we experience the turning from the potential into the actual, that call for investigation.

We are especially inviting contributions that address the following topics:

(a) We encourage contributions which address the moment in which virtual connectivity collapses into infrastructural materialization, where their relation concretizes the affective state of feeling (dis-)connected, for example, in moments of limited access, ubiquitous reachability, or nervous breakdown. What remains a central question we strive to answer is whether affect is linked to movements of (re-)territorialization, caused by ongoing attachments to certain places and their material constituents (Hutta 2015), and the reproduction of daily life habits and rhythms (Berlant 2006, 30), or whether it unfolds its animating virtuality through deterritorialization from a regulated order, thus actualizing new connections or disconnections.
(b) The tension between reterritorialization and deterritorialization requires inquiring into new forms of governing affect. Gilles Deleuze (1992) stresses in his »Postscript on the Societies of Control« that contemporary governing works through the modulation of free flows like affects or subjects and not through mechanisms of inclusion or exclusion. Modulation constitutes »blurry boundaries«. If we conceive of affect as flows of energy that attune bodies, the control of affective atmospheres seems to extend Deleuze’ insight, thus raising questions about the spatial relation between affect and atmosphere. If affect also harnesses the potential for deterritorialization, wouldn’t it need to exceed atmospheres as the ›new‹ spatiality of control?
(c) Asking for the location of affect allows us to re-think »traditional« political places, such as streets, talk shows, or parliaments. Beyond distinctions between »inside« and »outside«, »public« or »private« (Beasley-Murray 2003), adopting a relational perspective of protest movements for example has brought new forms of political collectivity into focus, from networks to swarms to multitudes (Thacker 2004). New spaces of the political can be thought on the basis of such relational accounts, which take seriously both the dis-/connection between bodies and between networked devices (Bennett and Segerberg 2012). Blogs, social media platforms, and internet communities can not only be productively contrasted with »traditional« spaces of participation, but their modes of affection might also extend insights into new time-spaces of contagion (Tarde 1969), or make us re-think the spatial, temporal, and affective categories of proximity and distance that underpin spaces of political participation.
(d) The question of locating affect also points to problematic antagonisms in affect theory. Ruth Leys (2011) has pointed out that some affect theories in fact reinstall a dualism between mind and body and disregard the tradition of embodied cognition. In a similar manner, Constantina Papoulias and Felicity Callard (2010) have criticized that some affect theorists use findings from neuroscience and developmental psychology in a way that amounts to a new biological essentialism. We can extend those criticisms with the conceptual hesitation that by throwing out intension, decision, and signification, alongside with cognition as the antagonist to affect, the possible theoretical basis for an affective politics becomes too narrow. Locating affective communication, for example, might benefit from situated and embodied cognition theories rather than enforcing old dualisms.

Leys’s criticism as well as Angerer’s (2014) historical reconstructions also show that the question of locating affect depends largely on the empirical methods upon which affect theorists in the humanities have built their abstractions. For example, the difference between emotion and affect in terms of their discreteness, the operational belatedness of cognition after affects, and the distinction between deep bodily processes and surface reactions, altogether remain disputed in the original psychological research domains (exemplified in the discussion of facial expressions between ›basic human emotions‹ theorists and behavioral ecologists). Other problems emerge when affect is conceptualized as ontological force, since then the agency of affected subjects and the influences of the social on affective forces call for an explanation (Hemmings 2005). In addition to pointing out the shortcomings of affect theories and their imported axioms and locational ›bias‹, we also welcome contributions that bring in alternative theoretical frameworks.
We believe that the question of location is pivotal for both the conceptual and empirical takes on affect.
To frame it as a series of questions: Where could affect be located: within the human/non-human, in-between them, in their environment, or in all three (Blackman 2012; Brennan 2004)? Is it to be found in abstract topological spaces or rather embedded in concrete bodies and spaces? What (new) problems and difficulties arise from thinking about the location of affect?

What we’re looking for:
On the one hand, we are interested in the spatial descriptions of affect on a conceptual level. On the other hand, we seek to gather examples and case studies, which address the concrete locality of affect in empirical works. Therefore, we aim to bring together articles from the social/human sciences, media studies, and philosophy. Submission Instructions
Be sure to submit your paper by 31st March, 2018 for consideration.

View the Instructions for Authors for details about style and form. All submissions should be made through the journal’s manuscript submission site, which can be found here:
All submitted papers will be evaluated by the editors, and publication decisions are based on double-blind peer review.
We are happy to receive inquiries by email. Please contact Vanessa Weber at or Urs Stäheli at