This seminar has two ambitions in relation to the current state of affect theory in the humanities and intepretive social sciences:

(i) to trace more clearly the many different kinds of intellectual genealogies that contribute to thinking about affect or emotion

(ii) to re-articulate these traditions with each other and so expand the intellectual parameters of the field. To put this simply, this seminar seeks to diversify the conceptual field of affect theory, and thus make theories of affect more broadly available and usable for new and junior scholars.

We recognize that for some scholars the lack of clear definitional boundaries have been enabling for their thinking about affect. As Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (2009) note in the widely circulated Affect Theory Reader: “There is no single, generalizable theory of affect; not yet, and (thankfully) there never will be” (p. 3). This Sawyer seminar does not seek a generalizable theory of affect. It does recognize, however, that confusion about what constitutes affect has a limiting effect on the kinds of research projects than can emerge out of the humanities and interpretive social sciences. This has been particularly pressing for graduate students and for already established scholars looking to move into the study of the affects from other fields (or to take theories of affect back to their disciplinary homes).

By mapping the various and divergent traditions of affect theory (by showing how these traditions are networked with and athwart each other, and how cross-engagement with more than one of these traditions can be immensely productive) this seminar aims to enable those scholars for whom the question “what are affects?” requires closer scrutiny. This attention to genealogy, we wager, will generate more precisely honed criticism about the centrality of affect in the production and circulation of cultural objects as well as thicker descriptions of the affects in cultural life.