Affect theory is an interdisciplinary field of study that has gained significant attention in recent years. The term “affect” refers to the experience of bodily sensations and emotions, which are often thought of as pre-conscious or non-cognitive. Affect theory could concern us with understanding how affective experiences shape our social and cultural worlds. In this blog post, I provide an overview of affect theory and its initial concepts.
Affect theory emerged from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and cultural studies. Its roots can be traced back to the work of early 20th-century psychologists such as William James and Carl Lange, who proposed that bodily sensations precede emotional experiences. More recently, affect theory has been shaped by the work of cultural theorists such as Brian Massumi and Sara Ahmed, who have argued that affective experiences play a crucial role in the construction of social and cultural norms.
One of the key concepts in affect theory is affective intensity. This refers to the strength of an affective experience, which can range from mild to intense. Affective intensity is not necessarily related to the valence of emotion (i.e., whether it is positive or negative), but rather to the intensity of the bodily sensations associated with the emotion.
Another important concept in affect theory is affective contagion. This refers to the way in which affective experiences can spread from one person to another, often without conscious awareness. Affective contagion can occur through various channels, including facial expressions, vocalizations, and bodily movements.
Affect theory also emphasizes the importance of affective atmospheres. These are the emotional and sensory qualities of a particular environment or situation, which can influence the affective experiences of those who inhabit it. Affective atmospheres can be created intentionally (e.g., through the use of lighting or music) or emerge spontaneously.
Finally, affect theory can highlight the political and social implications of affective experiences. Affect can be used to manipulate and control individuals and groups, as well as to resist dominant norms and power structures. Affect theory thus provides a framework for understanding the role of emotion and bodily sensations in the construction and contestation of social and cultural norms.
In conclusion, affect theory can offer a valuable perspective on the relationship between bodily sensations, emotions, and social and cultural norms. By emphasising the importance of affective experiences, affect theory provides a framework for understanding how individuals and groups are shaped by and resist dominant social and cultural norms.