email correspondence for this issue: Thomas dot Markussen at aarch dot dk/ jonas dot fritsch at gmail dot com
"The notion of affect does take many forms, and you’re right to begin by emphasizing that. To get anywhere with the concept, you have to retain the manyness of its forms. It’s not something that can be reduced to one thing. Mainly, because it’s not a thing. It’s an event, or a dimension of every event. What interests me in the concept is that if you approach it respecting its variety, you are presented with a field of questioning, a problematic field, where the customary divisions that questions about subjectivity, becoming, or the political are usually couched in do not apply."
(Massumi, Of Microperception and Micropolitics, p. 1)
This special issue of the Fibreculture Journal addresses some of the contemporary challenges involved in working with affect. The issue is particularly focussed on working with affect across disciplines and practices involving interaction design, interaction-based art and/or digital technologies and digital arts. The pivotal question is this: How do we explore the “field of questioning” that arises when you approach the affective within interaction design and digital art? What is the use of disciplinary goals when the affective has proven to be most valuable in trans-disciplinary theory? Where do we go from here, i.e. how can we continue working with the notion of affect—develop it in new theoretical, analytical and practical domains? What key concepts might emerge from this continued trajectory? How would they resonate within and with-out existing disciplines, creating novel links and assemblages?
We are especially interested in the way in which changing concepts of affect are taken up within interaction design, interaction-based art and digital art. The editors are generally interested in concepts of affect that go beyond (or run beside) many of the given assumptions of interaction design, including those grounded in phenomenology. So, for example, we would be interested in concepts of, and work with, affect that goes beyond the "personal" interaction with the technical. Here affect might be understood as an impersonal—as much as or even sometimes as opposed to an intimate—dimension of relational capacity. This is affect as proposed in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, and more recently, in very different ways, the work of Brian Massumi, Patricia Clough, Nigel Thrift, and others (see below). Here affect is comprised of intensities and speeds, in which the living and nonliving, human and nonhuman differentially affect and are affected by each other. Such new understandings of affect have consequences for both thinking about, and designing for, interaction. They often meet other concepts of affect and interaction in interesting ways.
We are interested in how such concepts, and meetings of concepts, feed into the practices that we find in interaction design, interaction-based art and digital art. How do you design affectively, for instance? How can we use insights from and around the affective turn while going beyond it, mobilizing the engagement with affect in a dynamic way, creating new relational events across disciplines and practices, feeding into new ways of thinking and acting? If the concept of ongoing change is so integral to the understanding of affect, how might we actually start “living” by it—academically, or in the manner of research-creation? What kinds of politics does the concept of affect offer? If, as Massumi states, it is possible to talk about the affective as bringing about an expanded empirical field in various disciplines, how might we continue an exploratory politics of radical change pursued by other than philosophical means?
How do such questions come into interactive design, or the more general meeting of technology and the social?
We invite scholars, researchers and practitioners from the fields of interaction design, interaction-based art and digital art to contribute articles that help continue to develop the notion of affect beyond the affective turn. Possible topics/questions that can be addressed include, but are in no way limited to:
• In what ways might the concept of affect challenge dominant notions of ”user experience”, ”interface”, ”interaction” and ”aesthetics of interaction” in interaction design and digital art? • Wherein lies the difference between affective interaction and emotional interaction?
• How do media and technology engage the transition from pre-cognitive affective forces to emotions, and vice versa? • In what way does affective interaction through media and technology relate to the construction of identity, gender, power or politics?
• What is the role of the affective in the redistribution of the sensible as it comes to the fore in interaction design, interaction-based art and digital art? • How can analytical and philosophical frameworks of the affective be taken further within experimental and artistic practice?
• How can insights into the affective expand the empirical field in the design of media and mass communication and their effect on individual and social bodies? • How do the social, political and aesthetic come to together in the way media and technology affectively attune our bodies?
• To what extent can affect, and practices consciously working with affect, be brought into trans-disciplinary frameworks? • What are the ethics, the forms of evaluation in terms of modes of living, implied by the consideration of affect?
• Félix Guattari notes, after Gregory Bateson, that there is an "ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds" (Guattari, 2000: 27). What about destructive ecologies of affect? • Are there critical limits to the cultural leverage provided by theories of affect, or does affect make us rethink the limits of critique?
• What are the relations between practice and critique, for example, in interaction design, when affect is taken into account?
Below, we shall quickly outline some of the diverse approaches that inform our interests here. Please note, however, that this issue of the Fibreculture Journal is not concerned with the "affective turn" per se. Rather, assuming the importance of considering affect across a number of disciplines, we are particularly concerned with affect as it is worked with in interaction design, interaction-based art and digital art. On the other hand, we welcome explorations of theoretical issues related to the questions and practices involved.
Having emerged in the mid-90s, the “affective turn” marked an increased cross-disciplinary research interest in pre-cognitive bodily forces, notably in how these forces are involved in the construction of human subjectivity, identity and our engagement with other people and technology. We have now reached a point where analysis of the affective has been shown to enrich the understanding of human existence—from the micro-perceptual to the macro-political. Brian Massumi has described affect as a “world-glue”, bringing together different levels of experience and working across traditional dichotomies. It seems that affect also has a further role to play as a kind of “disciplinary-glue”, making disparate practices resonate through the conceptual development and practical exploration of affect—and derived concepts and analyses.
Patricia Clough’s introduction to “The Affective Turn” from 2007 is explicitly concerned with how “the affective turn is necessary to theorizing the social” (Clough 2007). Most recently, in an afterword to a special issue on affect published by the journal Body and Society, Clough offers interesting ideas about the future of affect studies but leaves the question of technology relatively unaddressed (T. Clough, 2010). In the field of Human-Computer Interaction, however, a range of technologically—oriented experiments have been carried out in the name of Affective Computing (e.g. Picard, 2000) or Emotional Design (Norman, 2004). These approaches , however, have been criticized for reducing the complexity of the affective in an attempt to make it formalizable and structurable in computational and informational terms. Recently, this informational approach to understanding affect has been countered with what has been termed an interactional approach. Here, an alternative model of emotion as interaction is introduced, allowing for the way in which interactive systems are experienced, culturally mediated and socially constructed (Boehner, DePaula, Dourish, & Sengers, 2005). However, the relation between the affective and emotional remains relatively unexplained.
All this leaves us with a possible space of resonance for many of the concepts and practices arising from the affective turn.
Nigel Thrift identifies five different schools of affective thinking in “Turbulent Passions” (Thrift, 2007). Coming out of psycho-geography and non-representational theory, these schools bring new theoretical assemblages into being. Brian Massumi offers another affective trajectory. Massumi’s work moves from Spinoza’s basic notion of affect as the ability to affect and be affected, through the writings of Gilles Deleuze, to Gilbert Simondon and Alfred N. Whitehead, at the same time deploying work in developmental psychology carried out by Daniel Stern, as well as William James’ notion of radical empiricism. For Massumi the notion of the affective has been central for re-conceptualizing the emergence of subjectivity (which is not a pre-given entity). One aspect of this is and the way in which interactive media and technologies may open up new territories for engaging preindividual forces, for instance in pre-cognitive sensations and feelings in bodily experience. This re-conceptualization has not only been valuable for understanding the aesthetics of interaction as it is continuously explored in interaction-based art, digital art, design and architecture (see e.g. Massumi, 1998, 2007). It has also made it clear that we need to include the political and ethical in the notion of the aesthetic, which in Guattari's terms becomes the aesthetico-political. Bodies always find themselves affected by fields of forces— forces of ideology, techniques and practice— that attune these bodies to certain regions of action or potentialities for action (Massumi, 2008, p. 6).
With the advent of new media and technologies, artists and interaction designers are offered rich opportunities for exploring the many intersections between affect, sensation and action—at the level of the individual and social body. For example, imaging technologies allow artists such as Olafur Eliasson or Bill Viola to explore microscopically affective layers of sensation, of which we may not usually be consciously aware. Or, in what has become known as tactical media, surveillance technology has been subversively in public space, either to enhance affective social attunement between bodies—as in projects by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer or Ben Rubin—or as an instrument for micro-political acts of resistance that disrupt existing systems of control and power in order to liberate the body and construct counter-publics—as seen most vividly in iSee, by The Institute for Applied Autonomy or Roderico Dominquez’s Transborder Immigration Tool.
Boehner, K., DePaula, R., Dourish, P., & Sengers, P. (2005). Affect: from information to interaction. In Proceedings of the 4th decennial conference on Critical computing: between sense and sensibility (pp. 59-68). ACM.
Clough, P. T. (2007). Introduction. In P. T. Clough & J. O. Halley (Eds.), The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Duke University Press. Clough, T. (2010). Afterword: The Future of Affect Studies. Body & Society, 16(1), 222.
Massumi, B. (1998). Sensing the virtual, building the insensible. Architectural Design (Profile no. 133), 68(5/6), 16-24. Massumi, B. (2007). The thinking-feeling of what happens. In J. Brouwer & A. Mulder (Eds.), Interact or Die! NAi Uitgevers/Publishers.
Massumi, B. (2008). Of Microperception and Micropolitics. Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation, Inflexions, 3. Norman, D. A. (2004). Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. Basic Civitas Books.
Picard, R. W. (2000). Affective computing. The MIT Press. Thrift, N. J. (2007). Non-representational theory: space, politics, affect. Routledge.
"A traveller, who has lost his way, should not ask, Where am I? What he really wants to know is, Where are the other places" - Alfred North Whitehead