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?
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