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‘I wasn't angry, because I couldn't believe it was happening’: Affect and discourse in responses to 9/111

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2011


While the recent interest in affects and emotions in world politics is encouraging, the crucial relationships between affect, emotion, and discourse have remained largely under-examined. This article offers a framework for understanding the relations between affect and discourse by drawing upon the theories of Jacques Lacan. Lacan conceptualises affect as an experience which lies beyond the realm of discourse, yet nevertheless has an effect upon discourse. Emotion results when affects are articulated within discourse as recognisable signifiers. In addition, Lacanian theory conceptualises affect and discourse as overlapping yet not as coextensive, allowing analyses to theoretically distinguish between discourses which become sites of affective investment for audiences and those that do not. Thus, analysing the mutual infusion of affect and discourse can shed light on why some discourses are more politically efficacious than others. The empirical import of these ideas is offered in an analysis of American affective reactions to 11 September 2001.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2011

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81 By examining some of the affective politics surrounding 9/11, I do not mean to suggest that affects and emotions matter only during times of crisis rather than in everyday life and politics. Although, Bleiker and Hutchison, ‘Fear no more’, p. 129 suggest that the relevance of emotions is often most visible during traumatic events, since these events unsettle and challenge the emotional ties which help to hold together communities.

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85 Karl Day, Witness and Response Collection, US Library of Congress American Folklife Center, 2 October 2001 (SR101), quoted in ibid.

86 Daniel Dominguez, Witness and Response Collection, US Library of Congress American Folklife Center, 8 October 2001 (SR247), quoted in ibid.

87 Kyoko Sato, Witness and Response Collection, US Library of Congress American Folklife Center, 16 October 2001 (SR015), quoted in ibid.

88 Holland, ‘From September 11th, 2001 to 9/11’, p. 281.

89 Adam Gospodarek, Witness and Response Collection, US Library of Congress American Folklife Center, 13 September 2001 (SR375), quoted in ibid., p. 285.

90 Bill Kyriagis, Witness and Response Collection, US Library of Congress American Folklife Center, 14 September 2001 (SR375), quoted in ibid.

91 Patti Chapman, Witness and Response Collection, US Library of Congress American Folklife Center, 27 October 2001 (SR025), quoted in ibid.

92 Aaron Hill, Witness and Response Collection, US Library of Congress American Folklife Center, 18 September 2001 (SR203), quoted in ibid., p. 288.

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95 See Holland, ‘From September 11th, 2001 to 9/11’; the media, of course, played a significant role in this process. See Croft, Culture, Crisis; Richard Jackson, Writing the War on Terrorism.

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99 Holland, ‘From September 11th, 2001 to 9/11’, p. 285.

100 Ibid.