Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Emotion

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of Arts and Cultures

Abstract

Empathy is today framed as affective panacea to a wide range of international social ills. While Barack Obama has called on Americans to address the nation's 'empathy deficit' and feel for those who are struggling, both inside and outside the nation (2006: 67-8), feminist and anti-racist theorists have long argued that 'engagement based on empathy' is integral to fostering 'social justice' and 'solidarity' transnationally (Alexander and Mohanty,1997: xlii). This Fellowship project explores the power dynamics underlying the contemporary affective injunction to 'be empathetic' and their complex transnational implications. Through close analysis of a range of popular and scholarly 'affective texts' - including Obama's political memoirs and speeches, postcolonial literary and cultural works, best-selling business books, international development literatures, popular science writing, and feminist, anti-racist and queer theory - it employs a critical feminist perspective to investigate the possibilities, risks and contradictions of figuring empathy as a tool for engendering transnational social justice. As my monograph and journal article will argue, although empathy may enable transformative social connections, it can also reconstitute gendered, racialised, sexualised and classed hierarchies on a global scale. As such, we need to pay critical attention to empathy's uneven political effects.

Opening up ways of thinking empathetic politics that take us beyond universalist calls to 'put oneself in the other's shoes', I examine empathy's dynamic relationship to processes of location, translation and imagination. This involves exploring the ways that emotions are radically shaped by relations of history, power and violence in the context of postcoloniality, globalisation and neoliberalism, and fleshing out the possibilities and limitations of 'affective translation' across cultural, geo-political and temporal contexts. Moving away from liberal and neoliberal narratives which invest empathetic perspective-taking with a near magical power to bridge all differences and heal all wounds, the project considers how 'alternative empathies' might offer new and transformative ways of thinking - and feeling - the links between emotion, affect and social change in a transnational frame. It will contribute to an affective theory and politics which do not view emotions instrumentally as sources of, or solutions to, complex social, political and economic problems, but rather examine diverse and shifting relations of feeling for what they might tell us about the affective workings of power, and the emergent possibilities for radical political solidarities, transnationally.

The Fellowship will enable me to disseminate my research in the UK and internationally, in North America and Australia, where there are important communities of critical scholars working on the politics of emotion. It will also allow me to further hone my research leadership skills, and bring together interdisciplinary researchers of affect, culture and politics with leading professionals and practitioners, through convening an international symposium: 'Transnational Affects: Emotions and Politics in a Global Context'. An interactive website and blog will be desgined to support the event and the research project. These activities will enable me to develop an international research network for the study of emotion and transnationality, and to generate further high quality research and publications in this field. In sum, this project seeks to develop a critical vocabulary for theorising the transnational politics of emotion, which should be of significant interest and utility to interdisciplinary scholars of emotion, affect and political relations across the humanities and social sciences, as well as key audiences outside academia, including professionals in international politics and development, social business and enterprise, and local, national and transnational media.

Planned Impact

As discussed in 'Pathways to Impact', the proposed Fellowship project is likely to be of significant interest and utility to three key groups outside academia:

1) Institutions, practitioners and policy-makers in international politics and development:
My research looks directly at how affective rhetoric figures in professional development and training literatures created and used by Northern/Western international development agencies and transnational aid networks. Specifically, I examine writing produced by the World Bank, ActionAid and the UK Department for International Development about 'Immersions' programmes. My close analysis sheds light on some of the significant risks and contradictions of figuring empathy as a tool for social justice in a transnational context shaped by neoliberalism, and offers critical recommendations for how social theorists and development professionals alike might refigure ideologies and practices likely to reproduce dominant affective and social inequalities. I expect this work to be of interest to institutions concerned with how emotions might be mobilised and/or managed in international development practice, and to policy-makers and practitioners assessing the benefits, risks, and ethical implications of Immersions programmes. More broadly, my analysis of the links between 'affective translation' and 'cultural translation' should be highly relevant to international bodies seeking to facilitate transnational and cross-cultural communication among differently-located stakeholders.
2) Professional bodies and networks in business, enterprise and management:
In its analysis of the links between emotion, globalisation and neoliberalism, my research will be relevant to progressive professionals in the business sector. Through assessing bestselling business books, alongside research on contemporary affective norms and practices in the workplace, my monograph will examine how, and with what transnational political implications, empathy is cultivated as an affective capacity with market value in neoliberal economies. In a context in which leading professionals laud the potential of 'the empathy economy', I address the ways in which popular business 'experts', as well as multi-national corporations (such as IBM and Nike), appropriate feminist and anti-racist languages of empathy and compassion to leverage profit-making in ways that are likely to reproduce, rather than disrupt, social and geo-political hierarchies. My research is interested in how empathetic relations might work differently (and more ethically) in this context, and should therefore be useful to practitioners engaging with social enterprise and corporate social responsibility, such as Social Enterprise UK. My work is also relevant to professionals concerned with how to cultivate and/or negotiate emotions in the workplace in ways that are critically attuned to transnational cultural differences and inequalities of gender, race, sexuality class, nation - such the UK Institute for Small Business and Enterprise's (ISBE) Gender Enterprise Network (GEN).
3) Local, national and transnational media
Given the salience of rhetorics of empathy across a range of media outlets, from the BBC, to The Guardian, to Business Week, my project's interdisciplinary and transnational engagement with scholarly and popular discourses of empathy has potential to generate local, national and transnational media interest. In particular, broadcasters producing programming relating to themes of international politics, development and legacies of slavery and colonialism (i.e. Channel 4's recent documentary series, Empire) may be interested in research that links these phenomena to contemporary thinking about emotions. In the wake of the Occupy Movements, my research also resonates with on-going media interest in the current relevance of social justice movements, including feminist and anti-racist politics, and the links among media, politics and ethics.

Publications

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Pedwell C (2016) Transforming habit: revolution, routine and social change in Cultural Studies

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Pedwell C (2014) Cultural theory as Mood Work in New Formations

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Pedwell, C. (2016) Decolonising Empathy: Theorising Affect Transnationally in Samyukta: A Journal of Women's Studies

 
Description The findings of this grant were published in the monograph that emerged from it, Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy (Palgrave, 2014). The book explores the power dynamics underlying the contemporary affective injunction to 'be empathetic', and their complex social and geopolitical implications. Through analysis of a range of popular and scholarly sites and texts - including Obama's speeches and memoirs, best-selling business books, international development literatures, popular science tracts, postcolonial literature and feminist, anti-racist and queer theory - it investigates the possibilities, risks and contradictions of figuring empathy as an affective tool for engendering transnational social justice. It argues that empathy, or any other emotion, cannot be 'the solution' to complex transnational social inequalities and conflicts, because it is always already bound up with, and produced through, these very relations of power.
And yet, our continuing desire for empathy, our sense that there is something important about it despite evidence of its fallibility, and the ways in which it might be problematic, tells us something important, as the cultural theorists Elspeth Probyn (2004) puts, it, about our 'longing for communication, touch, lines of entanglement, and reciprocity'.
Exploitation Route The critical, interdisciplinary and transnational approach my project (and the monograph specifically) develops to theorising empathy, and related emotions and affects, may be of use to scholars, activists and professionals across a range of fields who are interested in the affective nature of conflict, communication, democracy and solidarity.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9781137275257
 
Description I have been contacted about my research on empathy by professionals and practitioners across various fields, such as: the museum and heritage sector, medicine and healthcare, counselling and psychotherapy, education and training and governance and policy. I have provided copies of key publications to various stakeholders within these groups and spoken with them at events and via email about key topics raised by my research.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description 'Circuits of Feeling in The Age of Empathy', The History of Emotions blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to contribute a blog post to the Centre for the History of Emotions blog, hosted by Queen Mary, University of London. This post, 'Circuits of Feeling in The Age of Empathy' has been viewed by hundreds of people and has garnered much publicity for my research and publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://emotionsblog.history.qmul.ac.uk/author/carolyn-pedwell/
 
Description 'Empathy, Accuracy and Transnational Politics', Theory, Culture and Society blog. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to contribute a blog post on my research to the Theory, Culture and Society journal blog. My post, 'Empathy, Accuracy and Transnational Politics' has been viewed by hundreds of people and has garnered significant publicity for my research and publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.theoryculturesociety.org/carolyn-pedwell-on-empathy-accuracy-and-transnational-politics/
 
Description Faculty Film Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to record a 5 minute interview about my research on empathy and transnational politics with FacultyFilm. It has been viewed by hundreds of people and has resulted in significant publicity for my publications in this area, as well as requests for more information about my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qME-pn1sWRg
 
Description International Symposium: Transnational Affects (Queen Mary, University of London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An day-long interdisciplinary symposium, Transnational Affects, was held at Queen Mary, University of London. It featured a keynote address by Professor Jasbir Puar (Rutgers, USA) as well as a range of talks by leading national and international scholars focused on the links between emotion, affect, geopolitics and transnational relations of power. It was attended by approximately 100 academics, postgraduate students and interested members of the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ahrc-international-symposium-transnational-affects-tickets-1086661333...
 
Description Podcast: New Books in Global Ethics and Politics, City University of New York 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to record a 60-minute podcast interview on my book, Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy (2014) with the New Books in Global Ethics and Politics podcast, hosted by the City University of New York as part of the International New Books Network. The podcast has been accessed by hundreds of users and I have received a number of emails about my research from people who have listened to the podcast internationally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://newbooksnetwork.com/carolyn-pedwell-affective-relations-the-transnational-politics-of-empathy...
 
Description Think Kent video: 'The Transnational Politics of Empathy', University of Kent YouTube channel. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I filmed a short 'Think Kent' video about my research on 'the transnational politics of empathy' which was made available on the University of Kent's YouTube channel and promoted through a range of social media sites. As of August 2016, it has been viewed by more than 2,000 people.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj-dfCQ60To