Field Notes: Affect


The theme of the Field Notes discussion for the month of February is “affect.” Ruminations on affect, the passions, and emotion have intrigued students of the human experience for centuries. As early as  Émile Durkheim's 1912 descriptions of "collective effervescence" anthropologists have also been involved in these debates. Following Gilles Deleuze’s distillation of the contributions of Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Nietzsche and others, scholars across the humanities and social sciences have returned to these discussions with renewed energy.  Inspired by the Culture@Large panel and discussions of how to research affect ethnographically at the 2012 AAA meeting, we asked four anthropologists to explore the ways understandings of affect inform their work.  

Speaking at the AAA, Andrea Muehlebach noted (in response to Lauren Berlant’s theories regarding the affective atmospheres of our current historical moment)  that Berlant seemed not to be writing toward an analysis of Late Liberalism but towards a sociality that is “pre-something.” What is that “something”? How do affective passions become effective? How do readings of affect open up understandings of race, gender and class? How does drawing attention to affect inform our ethics and politics? 

The following are the four writers for this round:  

Week 1: Provocation | Danilyn Rutherford is a professor of Anthropology and the Chair of the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Raiding the Land of the Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier (2003) and Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua (2012). Her previously published articles in CA include, “Kinky Empiricism” (2012), "Sympathy, State Building, and the Experience of Empire" (2009) and "Of Birds and Gifts: Reviving Tradition on an Indonesian Frontier" (1996). Danilyn's academic autobiography and departmental webpage includes further information about her research interests, contact information and other publications.  

Week 2: Translation | Richard McGrail is a Ph.D. Candidate in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at Stanford University. His research focuses on the relationships between bodily aesthetics and power: namely, how a person's physical appearance shapes their social value. In this sense, he's interested in learning about what a subject must look like in order to be recognized as socially valuable. He's pursuing these questions by studying child adoption practices in Venezuela. His basic research question is: to what extent does a child's physical appearance--namely, their race--affect his/her changes of being adopted? Richard's hobbies include: guitar, mixed martial arts, currency trading and creative writing.  He is heading to the field in the coming months.   

Week 3: Deviation | Sareeta Amrute is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington. She works on questions of race and labor in knowledge economies. She is currently completing a book manuscript tentatively titled, Color Coded:an ethnography of Indian IT workers in Berlin's new economy. For more on Sareeta’s work please visit her faculty website.  

Week 4: Integration | Andrea Muehlebach is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her first book, The Moral Neoliberal: Welfare and Citizenship in Italy, appeared with the University of Chicago Press in 2012. She has also published an essay in CA titled "On Affective Labor in Post-Fordist Italy" (2011).  For more on Andrea’s work visit her departmental website.


Creative Commons Photo by Martin Fisch 

Posts in This Series

Affect: Integration

Affect: Deviation

Affect: Translation

Affect: Provocation