«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
It is important to note however that Ferguson’s analysis is derived from the history of a particular nation state and the social formations to be found in other locales do not neatly fit into his theoretical framework. This is not to say that Ferguson is not aware of the limits of his analytic reach as he argues that the heterogeneity of surplus populations in different contexts requires continual theoretical adjustments “based on the historical and social particularities of group or groups under analysis and the competing narratives that frame those particularities” (2009, p. 163). As indicated in the previous section, the case of Canada provides an important point of departure from Ferguson’s theorizations because the relationship of the Canadian state to the particularities of race, gender and sexuality is quite different from that of the US. In Ferguson’s analysis, the US state is invested in producing a universal citizenship premised on white heteropatriarchy. In contrast, the Canadian state enshrines multiculturalism as a central component of the nation’s heritage and has welcomed gays and lesbians into the national fold through the legalization of same-sex marriage.
FEELINGS AND ACTOR NETWORK THEORYWhile the previous two sections focused on understanding the politics of difference within the context of the nation-state, this section focuses specifically on the affective dimensions of QTPOC social relations. Although political economic conditions have allowed the arts to become the means through which queer and trans of color organizers self-consciously construct modes of sociality, it is through the idiom of feelings that these modes ultimately cohere. As Masti Khor, a queer south Asian community performance artist shared, “all of these QTPOC community art things that are happening right now super value feelings. All the things that are being modeled for us in community… [tell us] that you are actually rewarded for being vulnerable”. In this section, I focus on how to study feelings as an object of analysis.
Feelings are an important domain of research not only because their examination allows for greater insight into the workings of broader socio-political processes, but also because they serve as the means through which to enact positive social change. Yet despite the transformative potential of feelings, emotions, affects and sentiments, scholars are still working through how to understand these phenomena empirically. Part of the trouble in figuring out how to study feelings in Anglo-American academic contexts stem from the inheritance of Enlightenment ideologies which posit dichotomies that separate phenomenon like matter from spirit (Keane, 2003). Within these set of frameworks, feelings in and of themselves are challenging to study because they are not understood to be physical entities that can take on material form. In this section I propose the utility of turning to Actor Network Theory (ANT) as a way to address the shortcomings of existing approaches in order to provide a more capacious analysis of feelings.
Within this study, “feelings” are not general and undifferentiated but rather refer to different kinds of phenomenon that operate at different scales of analysis. I use the term feelings in two different ways. The first is concerned with an individual orientation toward various human or non-human others. Chapter three provides a clear illustration of this approach as it examines QTPOC organizers relationships to each other and to their work. In this case, feelings describe both the love that these organizers profess for their community efforts and the hostility that they express toward others with whom they have conflict. In keeping with ANT’s characteristic ontological flatness, categorical divisions between what serve as the focus of these individual feelings (whether other humans or organizing work) are analytically inconsequential.
In contrast, the second way that I use the term “feelings” is more concerned with the nature of the relationship between individual humans than the humans themselves. In this approach, “feelings” refer to the kinds of social environments that humans produce and to the settings in which they conduct their activities. Chapters one and four illustrate this approach in their elaboration of “safe space” as a feelings-based environment and of how public practices of censure produce settings of fear and shame respectively.
In many ways, this focus on feelings has been made possible by the “affective turn” in the social sciences and humanities in its reversal of the historical neglect of feelings as a legitimate domain of inquiry. With the publication of Arlie Hochschild’s (1983) The managed heart, scholars increasingly began to refute the notion that feelings are necessarily individual phenomenon associated with a natural interiorized subjectivity. Scholars like Catherine Lutz and Gregory White (1986) have traced the denigration of feelings in Anglo-American scholarship to several hierarchically ordered and gendered Enlightenment dualisms - objective vs. subjective, nature vs. culture, rational vs. irrational, body vs. mind, social vs. individual, universalism vs.
particularism - in which the first terms in each of these paired sets are associated with maleness and are generally more valued than the second, which are associated with femaleness. As a consequence, Lutz and Abu-Lughod (1990) argue that scholarly treatments of emotion are often, “tied to tropes of interiority and granted ultimate facticity by being located in the natural body...[such that emotions] stubbornly retain their place, even in all but the most recent anthropological discussions, as the aspect of human experience least subject to control, least constructed or learned (hence most universal), least public and therefore least amenable to sociocultural analysis” (1990, p. 1) However, more recent studies of feelings have adopted a different scale of analysis by focusing on the explicitly political nature of how feelings are manifest in social relations. For instance, Joseph Masco (2008) focuses on the relationship between affect (as well as technology, and threat perception) and a national public sphere. In his analysis of the cultural work performed by the mass circulation of images of a nuclear bombed United States since 1945, he argues that the production of negative affects has become a central arena of nation building.
These images were mobilized in the name of civil defense to emotionally manage US citizens through the transformation of nuclear terror (which was seen as paralyzing) into nuclear fear (which would enable citizens to function in a time of crisis). By normalizing and politically deploying images of the catastrophic risk of nuclear fall out, the US state produced nuclear fear as a crucial dimension of the militarization of everyday life. Nuclear fear thus operated as a way for the state to shift the responsibility for nuclear war from itself to citizens by making public panic (and not the nuclear war itself) the enemy. Focusing on emotional regulation as the single most important issues in the case of a nuclear attack, citizens were prompted to take responsibility for their own survival. By emotionally adapting citizens to nuclear crisis, the US state engaged in a mode of psychological defense in order to produce feelings that would unify a national public in the face of wide spread nuclear threat. Nuclear fear becomes the means through which Americans are transformed into (Foucauldian) docile bodies in support of the goals of the US security state. In Masco’s analysis, feelings are far from natural phenomenon located within individual human subjectivity; instead they operate as means of engineering social collectivity in the mobilization of particular political projects.
Scholars have also noted that a focus on feelings is particularly useful in moving away from deconstructive and toward more productive modes of scholarship and analysis. In Parables for the virtual, Massumi (2002) draws on Deleuze’s critique of negativity and his emphasis on the cultivation of joy to make a case for shifting from critical modes of analysis to more affirmative ones. He argues “critical thinking…sees itself as uncovering something it claims was hidden or as debunking something it desires to subtract from the world, it clings to a basically
descriptive and justificatory modus operandi…The balance has to shift to affirmative methods:
techniques which embrace their own inventiveness and are not afraid to own up to the fact that they add (if so meagerly) to reality “(2002, p. 12).
A focus on affect serves as a particularly fitting way to go about the productivist approach that Massumi advocates. The genealogy of concept of "affect" may be traced to Baruch Spinoza’s (1992) Ethics in which he offers a practical philosophy on how to go about living a happy life. In contrast to Rene Descartes who conceived of man in terms of two radically different substances (mental and physical), Spinoza maintains a metaphysical monism such that “man” is composed of only one substance characterized by an infinite number of attributes.
Within this framework, affect refers to a body's capacity to affect and be affected whereby this capacity is never defined solely by a body in and of itself but is always supported by the context of its force relations. (Body in this case is not confined to a human body but also simply entities in general). This emphasis on capacity means that affect is not an object or a thing but rather must be understood in terms of "becoming". For Spinoza, while affects are a crucial element of “man”, the key to securing human happiness is through moderating and directing them. In this sense, affects operate as an obstacle to happiness insofar as humans are ignorant of how they function. Moving toward happiness requires cultivating a knowledge of how affects come to influence the way in which humans move through the world and of how affects connect humans to the natural world.
An example of how a focus on feelings facilitate a productive as opposed to a negative analytic can be located in Munoz’s (2009) work Cruising Utopia. In this text, he pushes against the political pessimism of what Sedgwick (2003) refers to as “paranoid readings” in order to seriously consider the significance of utopia and the importance of “astonished contemplation” as a way in which one can surpass the limitations of an alienating present to conceive a different time and place. Drawing on the work of Ernst Bloch, he mobilizes hope as a critical affect and methodology in order to outline a modality of queer utopianism through an analysis of quotidian aesthetics. He argues, “queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world” (2009, p.1). Munoz makes a distinction between abstract and concrete utopias in which the former ultimately falter given their separation from historical consciousness and the latter which are associated with historically situated struggles and the actualization of collectivity. While he concedes that utopian feelings can be subject to disappointment, they are nonetheless essential for the imagining and bringing forth of social transformation.