Ficha de leitura: The cultural politics of emotion – Sara Ahmed

AHMED, Sara. The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004.

So emotionality as a claim about a subject or a collective is clearly dependent on relations of power, which endows ‘others’ with meaning and value. (AHMED, 2004, p. 4)

So rather than asking ‘What are emotions?’, I will ask, ‘What do emotions do?’. In asking this question, I will not offer a singular theory of emotion, or one account of the work that emotions do, Rather, I will track how emotions circulate between bodies, examining how they ‘stick’ as well as move. In this introduction, my task will be to situate my account of the ‘cultural politics’ of emotion within a very partial account of the history of thinking on emotions. I will not offer a full review of this history, which would be an impossible task. (AHMED, 2004, p. 4)   What do I mean by the sociality of emotion? Before I can answer this question, we must firstly register what might seem too obvious: the everyday language of emotion is based on the presumption of interiority. (AHMED, 2004, p. 8)

The logic here is that I have feelings, which then move outwards objects and others, and which might even return to me. I will call this the ‘inside out’ model of emotions. In critiquing this model, I am joining sociologists and anthropologist who have argued that emotions should not be regarded as psychological states, but as social and cultural practices. (Lutz ans Abu-Lughod 1990; White 1993: 29; Williams 2001: 73; Collins 1990: 27), I want to offer a model of emotion, which is distinct from this literature, as well as informed by it. […] This demarcation of ‘the sociological’ becomes a theory of emotion as a social form, rather tahn individual self-expression. (AHMED, 2004: p. 9)

Indeed the ‘outside in’ model is problematic precisely because it assumes that emotions are something that ‘we have’. The crowd becomes like the individual, the one who ‘has feelings’. Feelings become a form of social presence rather than self-presence. In my model of sociality of emotions, I suggest that emotions create the very effect of the surfaces and boundaries that allow us to distinguish an inside and an outside in the first place. So emotions are not simply something ‘I’ or ‘we’ have. Rather, it is through emotions, or how we respond to objects and others, that surfaces of boundaries are made: the ‘I’ and ‘we’ are shaped by, and even take the shape of, contact with others. To return to my argument in the previous section, the surfaces of bodies ‘surface’ as an effect of the impressions left by others. I will show how the surfaces of collective as well as individual bodies take shape through such impressions. (AHMED, 2004: p. 10)

In other words, emotions are not ‘in’ either the individual or the social, but produce the very surfaces and boundaries that allow the individual and the social to be delineated as if they are objects. My analysis will show how emotions create the very surfaces and boundaries that allow all kinds of objects to be delineated. The objects of emotion take shape as effects of circulation. (AHMED, 2004, p. 10)

Emotions are after all moving, even if they do not simply move between us. We should note that the word ‘emotion’ comes from the Latin, emovere, referring to ‘to move, to move out’. Of course, emotions are not only about movement, they are also about attachments or about what connect us to this or that. (AHMED, 2004, p. 11

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