2000-01 Pembroke Seminar

"The Question of Emotion"
Elizabeth Weed, Pembroke Center Director

In 2000-01, the Pembroke Seminar will explore the question of emotion and its cognates: feeling, affect, sensibility, passion, mood, sentiment. We will look at the ways emotion is figured before and after the Enlightenment, inside and outside the West, in philosophical texts and in popular culture, in the disciplines and in the public sphere.

What are the histories of affect and their genealogical formations? What are the histories of individual emotions such as sorrow, happiness, hate, love, or boredom, elation, melancholy? What of the changing historical relationships between reason and emotion? How do we understand periods of apparent conceptual division, as during the Enlightenment, for example, when feeling as sensory perception and feeling as an affective state of consciousness come to be seen as distinct from each other? At what points is reason conceived as austerely separable from the emotions, as in some theories of Rational Man? Where do we find emotion at the service of rationality, as in Romanticism, or at the service of rational analysis, as in psychoanalysis? How do non-Western accounts of affect differ from the Western, as, for example, in understandings of the spirit world?

What does emotion look like within specific disciplinary formations? If theories of rational choice drive contemporary economic models, how do those theories assign analytic roles to irrationality and emotion in order to analyze "irrational exuberance" in the stock market or "consumer confidence" in the economy? What is the future of emotion in disciplines that aim to understand biological hardwiring, like cognitive science or psychopharmacology ? What concepts of the emotions or the passions inform disciplines such as sociology or political science or history? Does emotion function as a unified, coherent term within contemporary sciences and social sciences or does it have multiple, even residual meanings? What is the history of anthropological views of affect? What about the humanistic disciplines where the emotions have traditionally held pride of place in aesthetic theory and in the study of the "human"? Have critiques of humanism and the development of cultural studies displaced emotion? What is entailed in the recent revival of academic interest in the aesthetic? How have theories of affect, such as Aristotle’s emotions as orientations to the world, or Gregory Bateson’s figure of the tear as “an intellectual thing,” or Raymond Williams’s “structures of feeling” challenged our thinking on the question?

What role have emotional categories and images played in establishing the "cultural differences" that are said to distinguish East from West or North from South? How is affect distributed across national, ethnic, class, and gender differences by different philosophical and cultural systems? At times in its history, affect has been strongly gendered feminine, with the emotions located--positively or negatively--in the realms of the woman, the feminized homosexual, the private. When affect is gendered masculine, it can take good forms, as in virile compassion or pity, and bad, as in anger and rage. Similarly, the emotions have been racialized, with positive or negative connotations granted to primitive passions, native spontaneity, or racial zeal. How can we understand these formations in the context of more general social and political positioning of emotion and reason?

How do we understand the workings of the emotions cross-culturally? In every society some emotions are encouraged, some not. What are the ideological and material dimensions of such valorizations and prohibitions? To use a phrase of Catherine Lutz and Lila Abu-Lughod, what are the “politics of emotion”? If emotions are produced and inflected differently in different cultures, is affect a thoroughly social phenomenon? What are the limits to the “constructivist” view of emotion? Similarly, is the deconstruction of the categories of the public and the private the last word in understanding affect?

How has technology transformed our concept of the emotions? What impact has research into artificial intelligence and smart machines had on our understanding of human emotions as human? How does "cyber-life," with its virtual communities, open new avenues for the exchange and evolution of affective ties or close down others? How do these technological developments affect the value placed on emotional exchange? How have they reconstructed our notions of privacy and its relation to the emotions?

Other possible topics of interest range from the treatment of the passions in antiquity to emotion in contemporary media; from scientific explorations of affect and consciousness to the various roles of affect in international and domestic politics; from the role of affect in globalization to contemporary expressions of "rage" in the US; from "emotional intelligence" to "compassionate conservatism."