In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that emotion plays a central role in global politics. For example, people readily care about acts of terrorism and humanitarian crises because they appeal to our compassion for human suffering. These struggles also command attention where social interactions have the power to produce or intensify the emotional responses of those who participate in them.
From passionate protests to poignant speeches, Andrew A. G. Ross analyzes high-emotion events with an eye to how they shape public sentiment and finds that there is no single answer. The politically powerful play to the public’s emotions to advance their political aims, and such appeals to emotion also often serve to sustain existing values and institutions. But the affective dimension can produce profound change, particularly when a struggle in the present can be shown to line up with emotionally resonant events from the past. Extending his findings to well-studied conflicts, including the War on Terror and the violence in Rwanda and the Balkans, Ross identifies important sites of emotional impact missed by earlier research focused on identities and interests.
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About the Author
Andrew A. G. Ross is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and affiliated faculty with the Center for Law, Justice, and Culture at Ohio University. He lives in Baltimore, MD, and Athens, OH.
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Beyond Fear and Hatred in International Conflict
By ANDREW A. G. ROSS
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESSCopyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Circulations of Affect in Global Politics
Global politics is awash in public expressions of emotion: after eighteen "days of rage" forced Hosni Mubarak from office in 2011, the popular agitation migrated to Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, and Libya. A decade earlier, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, triggered waves of fear and anger—in the United States and around the world. During the early 1990s, nationalist sentiment contagiously filled political and cultural voids in post-Cold War Eastern and Central Europe. In each of these events, emotions were not momentary pathologies of a few ill-informed actors but broadly shared responses inflecting a wide range of social and political relationships. The emotions involved were not just private feelings but contagious patterns of human responsiveness that disrupted settled norms and relations and inspired new movements, networks, policies, and institutions. From revolutionary moods and collective memories to moral outrage and communities of fear, emotions shape the way people act in public settings. Somehow this human capability we normally impute to individual actors takes on a social existence as well.
And yet, while pundits, experts, and even some scholars routinely use terms such as "national pride," "bearish markets," or "climates of fear," the phenomena described by these terms often drop out at precisely the point where the science of politics begins. Disciplined studies of international relations generally adopt frameworks and methodologies that conceal social dimensions of emotion that otherwise seem intuitively plausible. For example, while public debate over 9/11 has been quite comfortable citing the fear, anger, and hatred that affected American public culture, scholarly investigations have gravitated instead to measuring individual attitudes or exploring the psychology of neoconservative elites. Research on ethnic conflict has become a showcase for the alleged risks associated with collective emotion as an analytical category, with much of the scholarly work on this topic attempting to discredit primordialist accounts that treat emotions as having ancient, cultural origins. As an object of study within the social sciences, the idea of shared emotions continues to lack credibility.
This chapter seeks to remedy these deficits by theorizing emotions as "circulations of affect"-conscious and unconscious exchanges of emotion occurring in and through the process of social interaction. Reaching well beyond international relations (IR) for extradisciplinary tools, I treat these affective circulations as products of both social and biological processes. As theories in the sociology of emotion suggest, people who participate in social activities together generate shared affective responses. I tap this literature to explain how the many interactions of social life-such as protests, political speeches, commemoration rituals, and legal events-spark not only psychological responses but also circulations of affect. Those circulations acquire political significance especially as communications technologies distribute social interactions to spatially dispersed audiences. I also draw from recent research in neuroscience, which helps to explain what is happening in the brain as people coparticipate in emotion-inducing interactions. While clinical findings are unlikely to offer IR scholars research-ready hypotheses, they do confirm that our brains recognize the emotions of others by simulating those expressions ourselves-and that the neural systems involved in simulation are deeply affected by socialization. Neuroscientists are thus confirming what sociologists have long believed: that emotions play an important role in regulating social behavior. They are psychological feeling-states but also biosocial phenomena constituting and circulating through minds, brains, and social environments.
Reconceptualizing emotions in this way generates some clues about their role in the social world of politics. Rather than treating emotions as idiosyncratic feeling-states with isolated impact on select, vulnerable individuals, we are positioned to look for a broader spectrum of emotional politics. I argue in this chapter that emotions play an important role in sustaining the processes of socialization familiar to constructivist IR theory. Circulations of affect supply the conscious and unconscious tissue from which social beliefs, norms, and identities are forged. Emotions are not confined to the individual level of analysis but extend out to social phenomena—norms, collective actors, and even institutions—seemingly lodged at different levels. This chapter seeks to establish the sociality of emotion and outline its ontological and political consequences. This preliminary step is necessary for the second chapter, where I show that circulations of affect possess special properties that can also inspire moments of creativity and change. Emotions, it turns out, are not simply stable habits and dispositions but adaptive and fluid capabilities central to the way social actors navigate political environments. Whether upholding settled norms or serving as first responders at moments of alarm, emotions have a profound impact on the composition and intensity of collective agency and the cultural material available for collective political action.
The emotions present in social settings are composite phenomena that consist of biological and social dimensions but also encompass the various emotion types familiar to the psychology of emotion. Focusing on single emotions misses the complex and multifaceted circulations of affect associated with political protest, national mobilization, transnational advocacy, and other activities common in an age of global communication. Emotions have psychological dimensions that can and should be studied in clinical settings where it is possible to isolate discrete psychological responses. But in a field such as global politics, where many objects of study involve historical processes and culturally mediated communications, we also need to account for both the way emotions circulate socially and the tendency for such exchanges to involve shifting mixtures of affect rather than stable and uniform emotion categories. The social world of global politics is too messy for an off-the-shelf application of categories from psychology.
Yet, by enumerating clear and distinct emotion types, the modern psychology of emotion pushed in the opposite direction for much of the second half of the twentieth century. Psychological research has contended that emotions are undervalued largely because their cognitive profiles have not been adequately elucidated. Prior to the modern science of emotions, the term "passion" was often used to refer indiscriminately to intense human responses exceeding the control of reason. Beginning in the nineteenth century, attention turned from fearing passion as such to locating its specific physiological origins. William James developed one of the most influential theories of emotion as a product of the body. But, as the psychology of emotion developed during the twentieth century, the Jamesian view fell from favor, and scholars turned instead to mapping the cognitive makeup of each emotion. Human emotions seemed too diverse to attribute all to physiological responses—then seen as primitive and uniform. The result was a cognitivist turn that tried to hold each emotion sufficiently still to locate behind it a signature belief structure. From psychology to analytic philosophy, the cognitivist assumption that emotions come in tidy, individually wrapped packages formed the baseline for several generations of research on the subject.
My contention is not that psychological categories are dispensable but that, used in isolation, they lack the analytical leverage needed for the historically layered and culturally diverse social environments involved in global politics. Topics confronted by IR scholars are unlikely to involve clear and distinct emotion types over time. For example, realism often regards security dilemmas as products of fear. But what exactly do realists mean by "fear" in this context? By emphasizing the negative impact of fear on perception—its role, for example, in sustaining the cult of the offensive—the realist approach tells us little about its peculiar qualities as an emotion. Social actors experiencing insecurity often know very little about the origins of fear, and that ambiguity becomes integral to the emotion. As Neta Crawford notes, a person may assimilate diverse things as objects of fear even where they have little or no real connection. Fear often manifests itself less as "fear of X" and more as an unsettling anxiety whose opacity permits latitude and flexibility in how "X" is imagined. In the months prior to Rwanda's genocide, for example, extremists succeeded in broadening the category "Tutsi" to include a larger and larger class of enemies: Rwandans believed to have assisted Tutsis, Rwandans of mixed marriage, women viewed as sexually depraved, and so on. Where the source of fear is difficult to discern, the work of emotional creativity begins.
Similar problems apply to hatred, perhaps the paradigmatic emotion in culturally oriented studies of global conflict. While social constructivists have rightly challenged the notion that hatreds are of primordial origin, many retain the assumption that "hatred" is nevertheless a useful way to describe the social construction of enmity. Empirical evidence often reveals a more complex story. The ethnographic research discussed in chapter 4, for example, points to relatively low levels of hatred in Rwandan society, even among those who perpetrated the genocide. Studies of the former Yugoslavia—often cited as a hotbed for this particular emotion—give equal reason to pause: where conflicting parties do describe hatreds, these descriptions function as shorthand for more complex emotions. Even in cases we often consider "textbook" illustrations of identity-based hatreds, therefore, conflict has more varied emotional roots—extending out to an array of collective memories, social insecurities, and evocative rituals. Setting out to study "hatred" in such cases prefigures the emotional landscape of a conflict by assuming, first, that recognizable social groups are the salient containers of emotion and, second, that emotions commonly involve recurring feelings of dislike directed at an opposing group. Even legal scholars presume "cycles of hatred" as the baseline against which to pursue transitional justice. The category thus shapes the way we think about the people involved in a conflict—as political neophytes mired in perpetual enmity—and their accordingly grim prospects for social recovery.
Adding more emotion categories affords only a partial solution to these problems. The psychology of emotion has long been a cottage industry of taxonomizing. Contributions variously offer lists of two, five, ten, or some other number of primary or basic emotions. Cognitivist approaches focus on the logical connections and patterns among emotion categories, often regarding a set of basic emotions as logical building blocks for more complex ones. Grief, for example, is rooted in some composite of sadness and love for the object lost. Resentment incorporates anger and humiliation. Each combination of basic emotions yields a more multifaceted response. But psychological accounts presume that the resulting emotions—grief, resentment, pride, and so on—are themselves isolated responses provoked by discrete objects. Inventing new emotion types only preserves the hope that for each stimulus we might find a distinct, corresponding response. This ambition underestimates the density and ambiguity of emotional experience. As phenomenological and neurological research has demonstrated, real emotions often blend together and mutate during the process of social interaction. Sometimes component emotions are no longer individually detectable in the resulting mixtures. The more we look for emotions that correspond to clear and distinct emotion objects, the less we see the linkages connecting one emotion to its many collaborators.
There is thus no straightforward answer to the questions "Which emotions matter in politics?" or "Which emotions matter in IR?" Although psychological categories have conditioned us into believing that behind each emotion lies a clear object and moment of elicitation, affective interactions are rarely so neat and tidy. Emotion categories are artificial handles later added to the organic situations of lived experience. As Dewey argues, we only think we have "anger," for example, because some outside observer—in an attempt to establish responsibility for an action-describes our conduct in that way. James registers a similar complaint when, in The Principles of Psychology, he worries that psychology had reified each emotion with an essential logic. When James writes that "the trouble with the emotions in psychology is that they are regarded too much as absolutely individual things," he does not mean what critics have often alleged: that all emotions are the product of the same, simple biological trigger. He is concerned instead that psychological categories treating emotions as self-contained "things" cannot capture the complexity and fluidity of embodied experience. What James calls "pure experience" in his writings on "radical empiricism" has been confirmed by neuroscience and phenomenological psychology: people often do not know how they feel, do not know what makes them feel the way they do, experience mixed emotions, and/or transfer emotions from one interaction to the next. "Hatred" and other familiar emotion types thus serve as invitations to closer empirical investigation, but not adequate categories for social and political theory.
In this book, I employ "affect" and "emotion" interchangeably and as umbrella terms encompassing various emotion types. I treat emotion/affect as a multidimensional capability that consists of activations of the insular cortex and limbic system, employs maps of the body, and sometimes generates feelings. Because affect can be transmitted through publicly available expressions and coproduced through social interactions, I regard social circulations as one of its common manifestations. My neurosociological approach deliberately avoids placing "feelings," the subjectively perceptible experiences of emotional response, at the center of emotional politics. As the "mental expressions" of emotion, feelings are a possible but not necessary component of an affective circulation. By insisting on the centrality of subjective reflection to emotional response, cognitive approaches have tended to blur the lines between emotions and feelings. Neuroscience has helped to once again disaggregate emotion from its felt dimension, uncovering the many affective processes—from unconscious desires and moods to implicit memories—that, while detectable through neuroimaging, are too quick or habitual to generate subjective feelings. I do not deny that subjective feelings are a dimension of emotion or that they become politically significant where subject to public discussion—for example, testimony at a truth commission, the personal reflections of a leader, or confessions from a public intellectual. My investigation considers these subjective feelings where they occur but does not conflate them with emotion.
Confirming the Jamesian view, research in neuroscience has shown that what we commonly describe as emotions are a diverse array of responses and states with varying degrees of conscious awareness and intentional control. Not only do some emotions never develop into feelings, but also the feelings we do experience are often connected to multiple, cross-cutting emotional processes. Moreover, some emotions are not discrete responses but "diffuse" moods that apply to multiple objects and linger over time. One way to make sense of this plurality of emotion is to posit a pattern of "nesting." In such an account, enthusiasm, malaise, and other "background emotions" exist within "basic emotions" such as anger and fear, and both types are nested within complex "social emotions," such as pride, envy, and guilt. The subjective feelings we have of emotional experience incorporate still more complex composites of all three types. These findings compel us to consider the interplay among not only different emotion types (fear, hatred, anger, and hope) but also varieties of affect (feelings, emotions, implicit memories, and moods). This diversity is not an exceptional characteristic that can be set aside in the interests of parsimonious theory; it is the default setting in a complex world of affective politics.
Circulations of Affect
This book opens up a rich field of socially constructed and politically charged emotions that I term "circulations of affect." A circulation of affect is a conscious or unconscious transmission of emotion within a social environment. When human beings participate together in social interactions, they are exposed to a common stock of emotion-eliciting encounters. These social interactions can take a variety of forms, encompassing the many actions that bring human beings into contact with one another, whether directly or mediated by communications technologies. Diplomatic meetings, legal trials, religious rituals, commemorative events, protests, rallies, and political speeches—all are social interactions with the potential to expose participants to emotion-inducing stories, symbols, and practices. They also supply venues of coparticipation at which individuals gain access to the emotional expressions of others; seeing others display an emotional response can engender homologous responses from coparticipants. These social interactions generate not identical emotional profiles within all participants but threads of shared emotion that exist notwithstanding the many dispositions, sentiments, and memories that continue to differ.
Excerpted from Mixed Emotions by ANDREW A. G. ROSS. Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
One / Circulations of Affect in Global Politics
Two / Contagion and the Creativity of Affect
Three / The Affective Politics of Terror
Four / Emotions and Ethnic Conflict
Five / Justice Beyond Hatred
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