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Concluding Thoughts


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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Jeff Goodwin and Steven Pfaff , ‘Emotion Work in High-Risk Social Movements: Managing Fear in the US and East German Civil Rights Movements’, in Jeff Goodwin , James Jasper and Francesca Polletta , eds, Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 282302

James M Jasper , ‘The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions in and around Social Movements’, Sociological Forum, 13 (1998), 397424

Ron Aminzade , and Doug McAdam , ‘Emotions and Contentious Politics’, in Ron Aminzade , Jack A. Goldstone , Doug McAdam , Elizabeth J. Perry , William H. Sewell Jr., Sidney Tarrow , and Charles Tilly , eds, Silence and Voice in the Study of Contentious Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2001), 1450

Jan Plamper , ‘The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns’, History and Theory, 49 (2010), 237–65, here 251

Deborah B. Gould , Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight Against AIDS (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2009)

Monique Scheer , ‘Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (And Is That What Makes Them Have a History?): A Bourdieuian Approach To Understanding Emotion’, History and Theory, 51 (2012), 193220, here 195

William M Reddy , The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

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Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
  • URL: /core/journals/contemporary-european-history
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