Affect, Embodiment and Sense Perception


Editorial Introduction:

Recent trends in social theory have placed great importance on “affect” for both analytic and political reasons, but the term is somewhat vague and ambiguous. For example, it has been described as felt bodily intensity that is: different from emotion and language; pre-social, but not asocial; material—or somehow pertaining to matter; dynamic and energetic; rife with possibilities to produce “new” and “emergent” phenomena.

This shorthand characterization of affect invites a number of questions. For instance: How must affect theorists understand "language" in order to then oppose it to "felt bodily intensity"? Why is affect aligned with the energetic, dynamic and new; while emotion is cast as static, deadening, ossifying? How must both time and the social be understood such that affect is presumed to come before the social, without being nonsocial? Finally: what is at stake in the conversations about affect, and what research and analytic tools do anthropologists possess in order to begin to address them?

The articles collected in this collection address the above qustions through different research methods and analytic objects. Significantly, they focus on how other analytic foci—namely, sense perception and embodiement—add to the field of discussion. The collection features articles by Joseph Alter, Thomas Csordas, Lochlann Jain, Eva Hayward and Nancy Rose Hunt. We invite you to read their materials and visit the associated supplemental pages.


"The Body of One Color: Indian Wrestling, The Indian State, and Utopian Somatics" 

Joseph Alter

"In this article I will provide an example of how a psychosomatic synthesis characterizes a particular category of person in northern India: the pahalwan, or Indian wrestler. I will argue that the wrestler's identity is the product of a precise "disciplinary mechanics" and that this psychosomatic identity is central to an ideology of national, moral reform."

Ahron de Leeuw, "Exercising on the Street." May 17, 2006.

"Somatic Modes of Attention"

Thomas Csordas

Embodiment as a paradigm or methodological orientation requires that the body be understood as the existential ground of culture-not as an object that is "good to think," but as a subject that is "necessary to be." To argue by analogy, a phenomenological paradigm of embodiment can be offered as an equivalent, and complement, to the semiotic paradigm of culture as text. Much as Barthes (1986) draws a distinction between the work and the text, a distinction can be drawn between the body and embodiment. For Barthes, the work is a fragment of substance, the material object that occupies the space of a bookstore or a library shelf. The text, in contrast, is an indeterminate methodological field that exists only when caught up in a discourse, and that is experienced only as activity and production (1986:57-68). In parallel fashion, the body is a biological, material entity, while embodiment can be understood as an indeterminate methodological field defined by perceptual experience and the mode of presence and engagement in the world. As applied to anthropology, the model of the text means that cultures can be understood, for purposes of internal and comparative analysis, to have properties similar to texts (Ricoeur 1979). In contrast, the paradigm of embodiment means not that cultures have the same structure as bodily experience, but that embodied experience is the starting point for analyzing human participation in a cultural world.

Jef Safi, "what ıs not ıncεssantly dıs-rε-plεatεd ? . .." June 8, 2008.

"Fingereyes: Impressions of Cup Corals"

Eva Hayward

In When Species Meet (2008) Donna Haraway proposes that creatures’ identities and affinities emerge through their encounters, their relationships. Following Haraway's lead, I attend to how different species sense and apprehend one another, leaving impressions—concrescences of perceptual data, or texture. This essay reports on fieldwork alongside marine biologists and with a population of cup corals (B. elegans) housed at the Long Marine Laboratory, Santa Cruz, California. While I assisted researchers who were studying metabolic rates and reproductive strategies in coral communities, these cup corals simultaneously taught me that being and sensing are inextricably enfolded. We were variously situated—corals generating generations, me interpretations. We met through a material-semiotic apparatus I call “fingeryeyes.” As an act of sensuous manifesting, fingeryeyes offers a queer reading of how making sense and sensual meaning are produced through determinable and permeable species boundaries.

Tom Weilenmann, "Cup Coral." June 7, 2003 via .

"Acoustic Register, Tenacious Images, and Congolese Scenes of Rape and Repetition"

Nancy Rose Hunt

This article argues for the importance of rewriting the conventional atrocity narrative about violence in King Leopold's Congo Free State in relation to the present, the ongoing war-related humanitarianism and sexual violence in the DRC. The central idea is to push beyond the shock and tenacity of the visual, the ubiquitous mutilation photographs that tend to blot out all else; and instead seek weaker, more fragile acoustic traces in a diverse archive with Congolese words and sounds. This sensory, nonspectral mode of parsing the archive tells us something new about the immediacy of violence, its duration in memory, and the bodily and reproductive effects of sexually torturing women. The sound of twisted laughter convulsed around forms of sexual violence that were constitutive of reproductive ruination during the rubber regime in Leopold's Congo. The work of strategically tethering the past to the present should not be about forging historicist links across time but about locating repetitions and difference, including differences among humanitarian modes and strategies in the early 20th and the early 21st centuries.

silentbyacutthroat, "edison's phonograph." October 9, 2009.

"Cancer Butch"

S. Lochlann Jain

The academic literature still tends to take Audre Lorde as the primary feminist theorist of breast cancer, and her The Cancer Journals (1997) remains, nearly three decades out, the definitive word on breast cancer and gender theory. In this article, I revisit the cultures and politics of cancer, offering a queer analysis of breast cancer in the U.S.

Dr Laughlin Dawes, "Metastatic Breast Carcinoma." March 30, 2007 .

Related Readings

Abu-Lughod, L. (1999). Veiled sentiments: honor and poetry in a Bedouin society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ahmed, S. (2004). The cultural politics of emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Benthall, J., Polhemus, T. (1975). The body as a medium of expression. New York: Dutton.

Berlant, L. G. (2011). Cruel optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Blacking, J. (1977). The anthropology of the body. New York: Academic Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Brennan, T. (2004). The transmission of affect. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Clough, P. T., & Halley, J. O. M. (2007). The affective turn: theorizing the social. Durham: Duke University Press.

Comaroff, J. (1985). Body of power, spirit of resistance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Comaroff, J. L., Comaroff, J. (1999). On personhood: an anthropological perspective from Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Connolly, W. E. (2002). Neuropolitics: thinking, culture, speed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Csordas, T. J. (1994). Embodiment and experience: the existential ground of culture and self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csordas, T. J. (2002). Body/meaning/healing. New York: Palgrave.

Daniel, E. V. (1984). Fluid signs: being a person the Tamil way. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Deleuze, G. (2001). Pure immanence: essays on a life. New York: Zone Books.

Dianteill, E., & Mauss, M. (2013). Marcel Mauss : l'anthropologie de l'un et du multiple. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Douglas, M. (1973). Natural symbols; explorations in cosmology. New York: Vintage Books.

Dube, S. (2009). Enchantments of modernity: empire, nation, globalization. New York: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2003). The Birth of the clinic an archaeology of medical perception. New York: Routledge.

Heidegger, M. (2010). Being and time. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Hirschkind, C. (2006). The ethical soundscape: cassette sermons and Islamic counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Husserl, E., & Welton, D. (1999). The essential Husserl: basic writings in transcendental phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Jay, M. (1993). Downcast eyes: the denigration of vision in twentieth-century French thought. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Keane, W. (2007). Christian moderns: freedom and fetish in the mission encounter. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Massumi, B. (1993). The politics of everyday fear. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the virtual: movement, affect, sensation. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mazzarella, W. (2003). Shoveling smoke: advertising and globalization in contemporary India. Durham: Duke University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2012). Phenomenology of perception. New York: Routledge.

Morris, R. C. (2000). In the place of origins: modernity and its mediums in northern Thailand. Durham: Duke University Press.

Protevi, J. (2009). Political affect: connecting the social and the somatic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Silverman, K. (1983). The subject of semiotics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, R. (1977). Marxism and literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Image Credits

Dhib, Ridha. "L'homme tressé." 2013. Accessed via Flickr on Feb. 28, 2013.