affective labour

– a question of method?
Susanna Paasonen, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
<[email protected]>
- affect vs. emotion: away from the psychological
- affect as intensities of feeling, bodily sensations, precognitive reactions
(emotions as ”interpretations”)
- ”the affective turn” as reaction toward the ”textual turn”
- from the semantic and the linguistic to the embodied, the affective, the
- re-readings of Spinoza, Silvan Tomkins; Deleuzian theorizations; new
materialism; feminist and queer studies on affect; phenomenological
investigations into sense and sensation
- different paradigms & frameworks, similar points of critique: need to
step away from negative critique toward the potential
- in media culture, interest in affect overlaps with debates on the
“intimization” of culture, tabloid culture, reality genres as “peer
melodrama”, the blurring of the boundaries of the private and the public
(e.g. Brian McNair, Striptease Culture, 2002; Frank Furedi, Therapy
Culture, 2004)
- the media knowingly evokes affect also within the more factual genres
(news media, current affairs)
E.g., the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, 1997
- the deployment if affective, emotional rhetoric, the
modality of melodrama and tragedy, in the media
(Diana’s life a as a media narrative)
- ”Queen of Hearts”
- focus on displays of sorrow and anger (by the family
members, the public, politicians)
- mass sorrow, communal grieving
- the transmission (Theresa Brennan) and stickiness
(Sara Ahmed) of affect as intensities of feeling
- the media played an active role (TV, newspapers,
magazines, radio…)
- the funerals as the highlight (seen in over 200
countries by more than a billion viewers)
- the accumulation and stickiness of affect may also
help to explain hate speech or the negative modes of
online discussion forums (intensification, sociability)
- or the current tones of Finnish ”immigration critical”
Benedict de Spinoza: Ethics (1677)
- critique of Descartes: stepping away from the mind/body dualism
- the individual as one entity (mindbody); there is an intimate
relationship between knowledge and affect (”sense and sensation”
impossible to decouple > Isobel Armstrong)
- affects are about encounters with the world and different bodies
(human and material bodies, bodies of thought)
- through affect, people become moved: affect structures
relationships between people, things and ideas
- this basic idea of encounters that move and transform those
involved in them has been adopted by Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari
> Brian Massumi, Rosi Braidotti, Elizabeth Grosz, Steven Shapiro… as
well as Sara Ahmed
- alternatives to psychoanalytical theories (of the subject)
> relationality, transformation, becoming
- embodied responses, intensities of feeling have long been overlooked in
media studies
- Vivian Sobchack: film theorists “seem either embarrassed or bemused by
bodies that often act wantonly and crudely at the movies”
- this goes against how popular media culture operates and works (Richard
Dyer: popular culture’s power depends on its power to move us)
- ”Deleuzian” theorizations of affect are often juxtaposed with
considerations of representation (affect vs. representation, meaning vs.
intensity and force, the linguistic vs. the carnal)
- how to study affect, if one only has access to one’s own sensations and
> affect as autonomous, non-personal intensity that connects people and
affects their life-forces (Brian Massumi)
> yet scholars make use of their own sensations & experiences when
explaining the affective force of images (the problem of generalisation?)
- vs. considerations of affect and emotion as situated & factually impossible
to tell apart: as marked and oriented by emotions, histories and values
(and hence ways of interacting with the world) – Sara Ahmed
1. Linda Willians, ”Body Genres” (1991)
melodrama, horror, comedy, pornography all appeal to and operate
through the body (in terms of depiction and its ”effects”)
- good melodrama makes you cry, good horror makes you shiver and
jump, good comedy makes you laugh…
- these genres have low cultural status
> the centrality of affect
>> viral videos & shock sites, forms of reality TV…
2. how to do away with mediation and representation in studies of media
(that mediate and represent?)
- focus on the immediacy of affect (before cognition)
- conflicting views of representation as representationalism (a form of
idealism) vs. activity
representationalism as belief in the separateness of language and
material world (access to language, not reality); language as mirroring
the world; the researcher as an objective outsider
representation as activity in which the world is given meaning, and
which influences the ways in how the world is perceived – at the same
time, material reality affects representations (for example, the ways of
perceiving homosexuality)
- affective labour as a different field of debate
- Maurizio Lazzarato (1996): immaterial labor is that which produces “the
informational and cultural content of the commodity”
- Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: two forms of immaterial labor
- the first producing “ideas, symbols, codes, texts, linguistic figures,
images and other such products”
- the second, affective labor, produces or manipulates affects, social
networks, and forms of community
- Tiziana Terranova: activities like chatting or blogging are not necessarily
recognized as labor as such, yet they involve the “creation of monetary
value out of knowledge/culture/affect”
- affective labor amply theorized in the context of the Internet / Web 2.0
(i.e. participatory culture, produsage…)
- users are emotionally attached to platforms
- in the new affective media economy, “the ideal consumer is active,
emotionally engaged, and socially networked” (Henry Jenkins)
- Mark Coté and Jennifer Pybus: immaterial labor intensifies in social
networking sites (attachments, corporate mining)
- general implications?
- the inseparability of sense and sensibility: the need to address both
affect as emotion and carnal sensations
- analysis of articulations of affect / considerations of affect on a
conceptual level / personal affectations / construction of feeling within
media images and texts
- these tackle different levels and forms of affect
- considerations of affect necessary in order to understand how
contemporary media operates and how people engage with it as well as
with each other
- on a more fundamental level, the question is one of knowledge
production and ways of being in the world
- the ”affective turn” is closely associated with the ”ethical” and ”material
turns” in feminist and cultural theory (and, in some instances, with the
”ontological turn”)
Ahmed, Sara (2004), The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Brennan, Theresa
Coté, Mark and Pybus, Jennifer (2007), Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and
Social Networks: Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization 7(1): 88–106
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix (2009), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1977).
New York: Penguin Books (orig. 1972).
Dyer, Richard (2002), Only Entertainment (1992). Second Edition. London: Routledge.
Furedi, Frank (2004), Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age. London:
Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio (2004), Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire.
London: Penguin.
Jenkins, Henry (2006), Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York:
NYU Press.
Lazzarato, Maurizio (1996), Immaterial Labour, URL:
Massumi, Brian (2002), Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Durham: Duke
University Press
McNair, Brian (2002), Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire. New
York: Routledge .
Sobchack, Vivian (2005), Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley:
California University Press.
Terranova, Tiziana (2000), Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy. Social Text
18(2): 33–58.
Williams, Linda (1991), Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess. Film Quarterly 44(4): 2–13.
and Marianne Liljeström and Susanna Paasonen (eds.), Working with Affect in Feminist
Readings: Disturbing Differences. London: Routledge 2010.