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Concluding Thoughts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 October 2014

Department of Sociology, College Eight Faculty Services, University of California Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA;


Fifteen plus years into the ‘emotional turn’ in the study of contentious politics, the question is no longer ‘do emotions matter’ but rather ‘do emotions ever not matter?’ Or, stated positively, can we grasp the phenomena that we group together under the name of collective political action without paying attention to feelings, emotions, affect? As others have argued, the factors that social movement scholars deem important for mobilisation – e.g. political opportunities, organisations, frames – have force precisely because of the feelings that they elicit, stir up, amplify, or dampen. We turn towards emotion, then, in order to understand the workings of the key concepts in the field. In addition, we need to explore feelings because they often are a primary catalyst or hindrance to political mobilisation, attenuating the role of other factors. Then there are the many other aspects of collective political action, beyond the question of mobilisation per se, where emotions play important roles, from ideological struggles to alliance formation to activist rituals to collective identity formation to community building. So, again, are emotions ever unimportant, are they ever a simply trivial aspect of what happens in and around contentious politics? Historians of emotion might take the argument further. If, as Rosenwein argues, ‘emotions are about things judged important to us’,2 if emotions are indications of what matters, of what is valued and devalued, how can scholars interested in any aspect of social life not consider emotions?

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 Goodwin, Jeff and Pfaff, Steven, ‘Emotion Work in High-Risk Social Movements: Managing Fear in the US and East German Civil Rights Movements’, in Goodwin, Jeff, Jasper, James and Polletta, Francesca, eds, Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 282302CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 283. See also Jasper, James M, ‘The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions in and around Social Movements’, Sociological Forum, 13 (1998), 397424CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 399, 408ff; Goodwin, Jeff, Jasper, James and Polletta, Francesca, ‘Return of the Repressed: The Fall and Rise of Emotions in Social Movement Theory’, Mobilization, 5 (2000), 6584Google Scholar, here 74; Jeff Goodwin, James Jasper and Francesca Polletta, ‘Introduction: Why Emotions Matter’, in Goodwin, Jasper and Polletta, eds, Passionate Politics, 1–24; Aminzade, Ron, and McAdam, Doug, ‘Emotions and Contentious Politics’, in Aminzade, Ron, Goldstone, Jack A., McAdam, Doug, Perry, Elizabeth J., Sewell, William H. Jr., Tarrow, Sidney, and Tilly, Charles, eds, Silence and Voice in the Study of Contentious Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2001), 1450CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 17.

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5 Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 165Google Scholar. Developmental biologist Scott Gilbert puts it this way: ‘We were “never” individuals’, cited in Haraway, Species, 32, from a personal correspondence she had with Gilbert.

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7 See Ahmed, Sara, The Cultural Politics of Emotions (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004)Google Scholar. She and many other cultural theorists understand emotions in a similarly relational manner.

8 Latour, Bruno, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 71Google Scholar.

9 Reddy, William M, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rosenwein, Barbara H., Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; Gould, Moving Politics.