Category Archives: affect theory

Bit on Networked Affect

I recently wrote a short entry on “Networked Affect” based on our recent edited collection for the forthcoming Posthuman Glossary put together by Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova. And here it is! In its non-copyedited glory.

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Counter to rationalised conceptualisations of network media as an issue of information management, retrieval and exchange, online communications are not merely about storing and sharing data but also about the spread, attachment, amplification and dissipation of affective intensity that help to shape and form connections and disconnections between different bodies. These proximities and distances, again, may intermesh and layer with sexual titillation, political passions or the creation of monetary value alike

As the capacity of bodies to affect and be affected by one another (e.g. Spinoza 1992; Massumi 2015), affect cuts across, and joins together, bodies human and nonhuman, organic and machine, material and conceptual – bodies of flesh and those of thought (Deleuze 1988: 127; Gatens 2000). Following Spinoza (1992), bodies and their capacities are constantly shaped and modified in their encounters with the world and the other bodies inhabiting in it: such encounters may then increase or diminish, affirm or undermine their life forces and potential to act. The notion of networked affect (Paasonen, Hillis and Petit 2015) is a means to address these interconnections as the circulation and oscillation of intensity in the framework of online communication that involves a plethora of actors, from individual users to more or less emergent collective bodies, devices, platforms, applications, companies, files and threads.

Addressing affect as networked positions it as something always already in-between bodies: as something that emerges in encounters between them, shapes these encounters, and animates the bodies involved. Instead of being articulated as an issue of individual capacity or property, affect, understood as networked, is that which makes things matter, gathers attention and, possibly, adds to the individual sense of liveliness as intensity that reverberates with personal embodied histories, orientations and values (Ahmed 2004; Cho 2015). Such a framing does not situate networked affect as either visceral gut reactions specific to the human or as nonhuman pre-personal potentiality. Rather, it allows for an examination of how intensities shape our ubiquitous networked exchanges, how they circulate, oscillate, and become registered as sensation as bodies pass from one state to another.

As Jodi Dean (2010; 2015) argues, the uses of social media are driven by a search for affective intensity that orients and provokes the interest and curiosity of users as they move across platforms, click on links, share and comment, searching for a shiver of interest, amusement, anger or disgust. Intensity, or that which Dean discusses as the drive, is that which drives the movements across sites and applications. What the users encounter on social media platforms, however, are not only other people but equally image and video files, animated GIFs, emojis, comments, algorithms, information architecture and routines of data mining. Although their parameters are of human design, these nonhuman factors curate the shapes that our sociability may take, what we can see and in what kinds of constellations on these platforms – and, perhaps to a degree, how we may feel about these interactions. Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska therefore argue that, ‘It is not simply the case that “we” – that is, autonomously existing humans – live in a complex technological environment that we can manage, control, and use. Rather, we are – physically and ontologically – part of the technological environment, and it makes no more sense to talk of us using it, than it does of it using us’ (2012: 13).

Tero Karppi (2015: 225) points out how Facebook, the currently dominant social networking site, aims to cater ‘happy accidents’ through its algorithms that are set to render visible things that users may not know to expect or actively search for. Similarly to the ‘like’ buttons, such designed serendipity aims at affective modulation, or amplification (Massumi 2015: 31) in the positive register. The controversial Facebook emotional manipulation study of 2012, conducted by a team of psychologists from Cornell, encapsulates much of this. The experiment involved the news feeds of 689,003 Facebook users, and analysis of some three million posts consisting of 122 million words, without the users’ explicit informed consent (Kramer, Guillory and Hancock 2014). The research team tweaked the algorithms selecting the content visible in users’ news feeds and manipulated them to show more or less positive or negative posts. The overall aim was to assess how this affected the users’ emotional states. Their hypothesis – and finding – was that ‘emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness’ (Kramer, Guillory and Hancock 2014: 8788).

Without further unpacking the limitations or conceptual nuances of this specific study here, it points to the centrality of affective modulation in and for the operating principles of much commercial network media – from social networking sites to online newspapers and clickbaits. In other words, affective modulation is inbuilt in, and central to, the production of value as ‘dependent on a socialised labour power organised in assemblages of humans and machines exceeding the spaces and times designated as “work”’ (Terranova 2006: 28). As forms of affective labour, this value production involves the manipulation of affects, social networks, and forms of community alike (Hardt and Negri 2001: 293; also Coté and Pybus 2007). This is an issue of ‘the corporeal and intellectual aspects of the new forms production’ where ‘labor engages at once with rational intelligence and with the passions or feeling’ (Hardt 2007: xi). Not only do social media ‘produce and circulate affect as a binding technique’ (Dean 2015: 90) to attract returning and loyal users, but affective stickiness is equally intimately tied to the production of monetary value.

Network media involves both personal and collective affective economies (Ahmed 2004) linked to memories, feelings, attachments, monetary value, politics, professions and fleeting titillations. Explorations of networked affect as the fuel for action help in mapping out how online platforms, exchanges and devices matter, as well as that which they affect – the purposes they are harnessed to and the outcomes that they facilitate. Here, any clear binary divides between the rational and the affective, the human and the nonhuman or the user and the instrument used are guaranteed to break down.

References

Ahmed, S. (2004), The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Cho, A. (2015), ‘Queer Reverb: Tumblr, Affect, Time’, in K. Hillis, S. Paasonen and M. Petit (eds), Networked Affect, Cambridge: MIT Press, 43–58.

Coté, M. and J. Pybus (2007), ‘Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks’, Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization 7(1): 88–106.

Dean, J. (2010), Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of the Drive, Oxford: Polity.

Dean, J. (2015), ‘Affect and Drive’, in K. Hillis, S. Paasonen and M. Petit (eds), Networked Affect, Cambridge: MIT Press, 89–100.

Deleuze, G. (1998), Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, R. Hurley (trans), San Francisco: City Lights Books.

Gatens, M. (2000), ‘Feminism as “Password”: Re-thinking the “Possible” with Spinoza and Deleuze’, Hypatia 15(2): 59–75.

Hardt, M. (2007), ‘Foreword: What Affects Are Good For’, in P. Ticineto Clough and J. Halley (eds), The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social, Durham: Duke University Press, ix-xiii.

Hardt, M. and A. Negri (2001), Empire, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Karppi, T. (2015), ‘Happy Accidents: Facebook and the Value of Affect’, in K. Hillis, S. Paasonen and M. Petit (eds), Networked Affect, Cambridge: MIT Press, 221–234.

Kember, S. and J. Zylinska (2012), Life after Media: Mediation as a Vital Process, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Kramer, A.D.I., J.E. Guillory and J.T. Hancock (2014), ‘Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111(24): 8788–8790.

Massumi, B. (2015), The Politics of Affect, Cambridge: Polity.

Paasonen, S., K. Hillis and M. Petit (2015), ‘Introduction: Networks of Transmission: Intensity, Sensation, Value’, in K. Hillis, S. Paasonen and M. Petit (eds), Networked Affect, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1–24.

Spinoza, B. (1992), The Ethics, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect and Selected Letters, S. Feldman (ed), S. Shirley (trans), Indianapolis: Hackett.

Terranova, T. (2006),‘On Sense and Sensibility: Immaterial Labour in Open Systems’, in G. Cox, J. Krysa and A. Lewin  (eds), Curating, Immateriality, Systems: On Curating Digital Media, New York: Autonomedia, 27–36.

 

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Crossroads 2016, Sydney

speaker-xroadsThe CFP for the Crossroads in Cultural Studies 2016 Conference in Sydney, December 14-17 is open until April 30. I’m very excited, and daunted, to be in a spotlight session on Popular Affect, with Sarah Banet-Waiser, John Erni and Catherine Driscoll, no less. If you haven’t been to a Xroads before, about time. And if you have, then you know it’s worth attending. ACS is definitely an organisation to support – and Sydney in mid-December sounds just about right.

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Networked Affect reviewed

There’s something quite virtual about academic publishing, with its slow tempos of putting things together, seeing books and journal issues slowly materialise and, in the best case scenario, having someone eventually read the thing. It’s therefore a thrill to have our Networked Affect, co-edited with Ken Hillis and Michael Petit, which only came out in the spring, being reviewed: by Sean McBean for New Formations. We have a reader.

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Affected!

During my sabbatical year, I plan to do many many things, including lots of reading. In terms of writing, the plan is to work on a project tentatively titled “Affected: failure, distraction and network media” exploring the affective dynamics of network media through moments of failure, analyses of social media addiction and distraction and the pedagogical challenges that the ubiquity of social media poses in a media studies classroom. Some of this will happen together with the wonderful Michael Petit. More to follow.

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Networked Affect is out!

Based on a series of worksho9780262028646ps at the 2011 Association of Internet Researchers conference in Seattle, Networked Affect is now out from MIT Press. Edited by Ken Hillis, Michael Petit and myself, it also includes essays by James Ash, Alex Cho, Jodi Dean, Melissa Gregg, Kylie Jarrett, Tero Karppi, Stephen Maddison, Jussi Parikka, Jennifer Pybus, Jenny Sundén and Veronika Tzankova. The book explores the intersections of internet research and theories of affect from a range of perspectives — from the queer reverbs of Tumblr to the gift economies of Facebook, nonhuman agencies of code, digital materialities of Steampunk and the political affect of Turkish sexual confession sites. So glad it’s finally out.

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affective encounters

Digging into my hard drive, there was the PDF of the proceedings for Affective Encounters: Rethinking Embodiment in Feminist Media Studies conference, held in University of Turku on 2001, coedited with Anu Koivunen. These went offline as the university once more redesigned their site – but are back now, here: proceedings.pdf.

aff

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The affect of failure

For three years now, I’ve been asking my students to write a small essay on their experiences of media and communication technology failing – just describing how it feels – in order to address our mundane dependencies on technological devices and networks of different kinds. This tends to be a favorite assignment (these feelings can be stark) and makes teaching the basic ideas of ANT a little smoother in a humanities media studies classroom. The plan is to develop this line of investigation toward the affective underpinnings of network media more generally, with an emphasis on distraction, boredom and other similar happy states. But before I get that far (looking forward to the sabbatical next academic year!), an article of mine exploring some of these essays is freshly online with Television & New Media as “As networks fail: Affect, technology, and the notion of the user.” One of the most enjoyable experiences of working with an academic journal ever! Special thanks to Ken Hillis and Michael Petit for their thoughtful comments and feedback. To be continued.

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Dialogue with Paul Morris

The dialogue I did with Paul Morris of Treasure Island Media, titled “Risk and Utopia” is freshly out with GLQ. An earlier, shorter article version appeared in the Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media edited by Carol Vernallis, Amy Herzog, and John Richardson last year as “Coming to Mind.” Working with Paul has been a special treat and I’ve began to think that a dialogue is currently an undervalued format in academic writing. A dialogue includes several voices and often goes against the conventional format of a journal article that necessitates uniform argumentation, it’s difficult to handle in terms of peer review and is easily interpreted as an interview. But there is so much to be done with dialogue as a form of exchange and co-thinking. Maybe one day I can do a book of dialogues. For now, I’m taking pleasure in this one.

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Reviews for Carnal Resonance

Academic publishing is slow and so is the book review process. Out in 2011, my Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography is actually getting some reviews: at least in Porn Studies, Convergence, Somatechnics and Media International Australia. Exciting times!

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Affective capitalism symposium

5-6 June at University of Turku, with Melissa Gregg and Tony D. Sampson as keynotes:

The idea of this two-day symposium is to bring together researchers and thinkers to discuss different areas of affective capitalism. We want to challenge affective capitalism on its own ground. To do this we will analyse specific examples of affective capitalism at work and map its defining factors. We are seeking new ways to understand affective capitalism through its ambivalences and complexities. At the same time, we ask how we could resist it and develop alternatives for it.

Program will soon be available at http://affectivecapitalism.wordpress.com/

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