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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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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), 282302, here 283. See also Jasper, James M, ‘The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions in and around Social Movements’, Sociological Forum, 13 (1998), 397424, 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), 6584, 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), 1450, here 17.

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

3 Gould, Deborah B., Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight Against AIDS (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Gould, Deborah B., ‘On Affect and Protest’, in Cvetkovich, Ann, Reynolds, Ann and Staiger, Janet, eds Political Emotions: Affect and the Public Sphere (New York: Routledge, 2010), 1844.

4 Goodwin, Jasper and Polletta, ‘Introduction’, 13; Goodwin, Jeff, Jasper, James and Polletta, Francesca, ‘Emotional Dimensions of Social Movements’, in Snow, David A., Soule, Sarah A. and Kriesi, Hanspeter, eds, The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004), 413–32, here 418; Jasper, James, ‘Motivation and Emotion’, in Goodin, R. E. and Tilly, C., eds, The Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 157–71. Monique Scheer suggests that some historians of emotions have had a similar anxiety: ‘Historians have been drawn to the cognitivist approach because it removed the stigma attached to emotion as something less than cognition.’ Scheer, Monique, ‘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.

5 Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 165. 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.

6 Barad, Karen, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 57.

7 See Ahmed, Sara, The Cultural Politics of Emotions (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004). 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), 71.

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

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