Zygmunt Bauman: ”Liquid Modernity revisited”

In the introduction to my new Global Society class in QUB today I mentioned Bauman’s work on Liquid Modernity in the context of debates on globalization. In this lecture, given in Aarhus in 2012, he gives a useful overview of his approach to some of these issues, which (my own) students especially might find interesting.


Just In Print: Power and Emotion (Routledge)

Power and emotion cover


I am delighted to announce that a collection of papers edited by myself and Prof. Helena Flam on the theme of emotions and power is just out today. This collection originally appeared as a special issue of the Journal of Political Power in 2013, but was chosen by Routledge to be reissued as part of their ‘special issue as book‘ series.  It is available for purchase from Amazon (UK now, US in October), Routledge, the Book Depository and elsewhere, but would make an excellent addition to your institutional library (recommendation form here).

The book includes some very high quality chapters that deploy and interrogate the concepts of emotion and power across a wide array of topics and issues, from some of the leading international researchers on these topics. The quality and diversity on show recommend this publication to a variety scholars, but especially those interested in the sociology of emotions, questions of social and political power, political sociology, organization studies, media studies, education, and political and social theory more generally.

The list of chapters and authors is:

Heaney, J.G. ‘Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure theoretical myopia’.

Flam, H. ‘The transnational movement for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation as an emotional (rule) regime?’.

Simpson, A.V., Clegg, S.R., Freeder, D. ‘Compassion, power and organization’.

Barbalet, J., Qi, X. ‘The paradox of power: conceptions of power and the relations of reason and emotion in European and Chinese culture’.

Wettergren, Å., Jansson, A.‘Emotions, power and space in the discourse of “People of the Real World”’.

Baker, S.A., Rowe, D. ‘The power of popular publicity: new social media and the affective dynamics of the sport racism scandal’. 

Martin, J.‘A feeling for democracy? Rhetoric, power and the emotions’.

Zembylas, M.‘Memorial ceremonies in schools: analyzing the entanglement of emotions and power’.

Procter, L. ‘Emotions, power and schooling: the socialisation of “angry boys”.

The blurb reads:

This collection is concerned with two fundamental concepts of social science– power and emotion. Power permeates all human relationships and is constitutive of social, economic, and political life. It stands at the centre of social and political theorizing, and its study has enriched scholarship within a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, political science, philosophy, and anthropology. The conceptual cluster of emotion, by contrast, had a more troubled time within these same disciplines. However, since the 1970’s and the advent of the ‘emotional turn’, there has been a widespread re-evaluation of emotion in and for our shared social existence and, today, emotions research is at forefront of contemporary social science. Yet, although both concepts are now widely seen as fundamental, research on these two phenomena has tended to run in parallel.

This collection, featuring leading international scholars, seeks to unite and deploy both concepts, emotion and power, in a variety of ways, and on a diverse array of topics such as: education, organizations, social movements, politics, ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, rhetoric and in comparative intellectual history. The results are at the bleeding edge of scholarship on these concepts, and will make important reading for practitioners and students working in the sociology of emotions, social and political power, political sociology, organization studies, and for sociological and political theory more generally.

This book was published as a special issue of the Journal of Political Power.

Please share widely!


William Reddy – Do Emotions Have a History? The Example of Romantic Love.

In this fascinating talk William M. Reddy, the William T. Laprade Professor of History and Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, expounds on the theme of romantic love.  This is the subject of his recent (and award-winning) book called The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900-1200 CE (2012).  The talk took place at the University of Melbourne in March of last year, in association with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. The blurb for the talks is below.  Reddy’s earlier work, and his concept of ’emotional regimes’ in particular has been influential for my own work in the sociology of emotions.  I have recently aquired this book and look forward to reading it.  The talk offers a reasonable summary of the main arguments, which suggests that the history of love is different in Europe to elsewhere, where love and sexual desire are united.  In Europe this was the case prior to, but not after, the 12th century CE, when the medieval notion of courtly love developed in opposition to moral theological definitions of sexual love as an ‘appetite of the body’ to be suppressed, controlled and subject to discipline. Love became ‘split’ or bifurcated, as is the Western tendency, into ‘bad/profane’ sexual desire and ‘pure/sacred’ sublime love – body and soul.  This split did not occur elsewhere, according to Reddy, who uses (primarily) literary examples from Japan, Asia and other cultures to make a comparative ethnography of love.  These themes, and much more besides, feature in the talk.      

Are emotions hard-wired, or are they subject to cultural or historical variation? In general, emotions are not subject to voluntary control; we do not get to pick which ones we will feel. Some emotions, like fear or anger, may trigger physiological changes. Others, like pride or nostalgia, do not. Are emotions hard-wired? Or are they subject to cultural or historical variation? Or perhaps, some are hard-wired, others shaped by culture?

For decades experts have been divided on the subject. The question of romantic love is a good entry point for appreciating the complexities social scientists face in trying to make sense of emotions. It seems that romantic love, of one kind or another, can be found in almost every part of the world. Is it universal, a product of neurotransmitters interacting with subcortical structures? The record suggests, on the contrary, not only that romantic love has gone through some striking transformations over the centuries, but also that collective action can make a difference in how we feel.

Professor William M. Reddy is the author of the seminal work on the History of Emotions, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions. (Cambridge University Press, 2001). His most recent book is The making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia and Japan, 900-1200CE (University of Chicago Press) was published in 2012.

Special Issue: Emotions & Power

RPOWcover 1..2

Just a quick note to announce that a special issue of the Journal of Political Power, edited by myself and Prof. Helena Flam, is now available online. The theme of the special issue is emotions and power, and the issue contains some new and exciting social science research addressing these two concepts from a variety of perspectives. We have chosen eight papers that address both concepts, emotion and power in a variety of settings, including education, work organizations, social movements, politics, ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, rhetoric and in comparisons in the conceptualization of some core concepts between ‘the West’ and ‘the East’. The diversity of subjects and approaches in evidence in the papers testifies both to the ubiquity of power and emotions in all areas of social life in general, and the importance and illumination gained from exploring these concepts together. The list of contributions, with links, is below. There are a handful of free access eprints to my introduction still available, but the rest of the articles are behind a paywall for now. If anyone wants me to email one or other of the papers just PM or leave a comment.

Heaney, J.G. (2013) ‘Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure theoretical myopia’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 355–362.

Flam, H. (2013) ‘The transnational movement for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation as an emotional (rule) regime?’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 363–383.

Simpson, A.V., Clegg, S.R., Freeder, D. (2013) ‘Compassion, power and organization’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 385–404.

Barbalet, J., Qi, X. (2013) ‘The paradox of power: conceptions of power and the relations of reason and emotion in European and Chinese culture’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 405–418.

Wettergren, Å., Jansson, A. (2013) ‘Emotions, power and space in the discourse of “People of the Real World”’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 419–439.

Baker, S.A., Rowe, D. (2013) ‘The power of popular publicity: new social media and the affective dynamics of the sport racism scandal’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 441–460.

Martin, J. (2013) ‘A feeling for democracy? Rhetoric, power and the emotions’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 461–476.

Zembylas, M. (2013) ‘Memorial ceremonies in schools: analyzing the entanglement of emotions and power’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 477–493.

Procter, L. (2013) ‘Emotions, power and schooling: the socialisation of “angry boys”’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 495–510.

Is Civil Society the Good Society?

This is a fascinating exchange, recorded in Dublin a few months ago, between Jeffrey Alexander and Maeve Cooke on the relationship between, and their their perspectives and positions on, the ‘civil society’ (sociology) and the ‘good society’ (philosophy).  It can be viewed as a conversation between their respective books on these topics – Cooke’s Re-Presenting The Good Society (2005) and Alexander’s The Civil Sphere (2006).  I have read the former some years ago and found it excellent.  I was particularly interested in the central deployment of imagination and affect in her arguments there.  I have not yet read Alexander’s book, which is 800 pages long, but have plans to.  The UCD blurb is below:

Professor Jeffrey Alexander (Department of Sociology, Yale University) and Professor Maeve Cooke (UCD School of Philosophy, University College Dublin) discuss: “Is Civil Society the Good Society?” at a special workshop in Dublin, Ireland (06 Sept 2013).

Professor Alexander, who is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University, was in Ireland to receive an honorary doctorate from University College Dublin in recognition of his “considerable contribution to sociology”.

“Jeffrey Alexander is one of the leading figures if not the intellectual voice of modern cultural sociology. His many books, most outstanding perhaps The Civil Sphere (Oxford University Press 2006), The Performance of Politics (Oxford University Press 2011) and his studies on cultural trauma such as Remembering the Holocaust (Oxford 2009), are milestones in the field”, said Dr Andreas Hess, UCD School of Sociology, who read the official citation at the conferring ceremony in University College Dublin.

“In contrast to other attempts such as the sociology of culture or cultural studies, the focus is not only on the arts, theatre, music, modern media and so forth but Alexander’s cultural sociology combines the aspirations of classic sociology of a Max Weber or Emile Durkheim with some of the new insights from linguistics, social anthropology, and the philosophy of language and applies these to a wide range of social phenomena.”

“In his opus magnum The Civil Sphere and in the follow-up study The Performance of Politics Alexander tries to apply cultural sociology to modern civil society and its politics. They are attempts to understand the complex relations and interactions between established institutions and the more flexible or elastic civil sphere in which public opinion is being formed and in which various conceptualisations of justice are discussed and begin to take shape. As Alexander shows convincingly in the case of Obama’s first presidential campaign, the civil sphere is also the place where the open democratic struggle for symbolic representation and meaning takes place − with outcomes that are not always predictable,” continued Dr Hess.

Facing Gaia: A new enquiry into Natural Religion-Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures 2013

Bruno Latour’s recent (Feb,2013)  Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh deserve to be more widely viewed than they have been.  Indeed, if history is any guide, they probably will be, eventually.  Already I have heard about an upcoming workshop organized around the lecture series, and a book based on the series is forthcoming.  Past luminaries of these lectures, which were established to ‘promote and diffuse the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term’ have included some of the most influential thinkers (and books) of the last century, including William James (1900-1902, The Varieties of Religious Experience), Henri Bergson (1913-14, The Problem of Personality), Hannah Arendt (1976, Life of the Mind), and, with particular significance for Latour, Alfred North Whitehead (1927-28, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology).

This last work, still notoriously troublesome despite its various revisions since Whitehead delivered it in Edinburgh almost a century ago, echoes throughout Latour’s six lectures.  Latour speaks; Whitehead stands at his shoulder.  It is clear that Professor Latour enjoyed following in ‘his philosopher’s’ footsteps. The key themes of the lectures circle around the implications of living in a new epoch in which humans are significantly affecting the earth’s ecosystem: the anthropocene.  The abstract for the series as a whole reads:

Facing Gaia. A New Inquiry into Natural Religion.

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ”natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ”natural religion”.

Politics, science and religion are brought into dialogue, via a sustained contemplation of Gaia, rather than nature.  What this shift calls for above all is a (political) shift from matters of fact to matters of concern, which is, in itself, a Whiteheadian shift.  The draft text of the lectures is available here (pdf), but the published book is on the way.  The remaining five lectures are below the fold.  I have only recently finished viewing them all and I am not ready to offer a critique just yet.  I may have to read (and re-read) the notes or the book that emerges to fully grasp what Latour is  saying.  His project is vast, and requires, demands, serious attention.  These lectures are a good place to begin.

The abstract for the first lecture is:

Once Out of Nature – natural religion as a pleonasm

Lecture abstract

The set of questions around the two words “natural religion” implies that only the second word is a coded and thus a disputed category, the first one being taken for granted and uncoded. But if it can be shown that the very notion of nature is a theological construct, we might be able to shift the problem somewhat: the question becomes not to save or resurrect “natural religion”, but to dispose of it by offering at last a ”secular” version of nature and of the natural sciences.

They get better as they go on.  Persevere.  And enjoy!

Continue reading “Facing Gaia: A new enquiry into Natural Religion-Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures 2013”

‘Walled States, Waning Sovereignty’ Professor Wendy Brown, CCIG Keynote Lecture

I am affiliated with the wonderfully named ‘power cluster’ in the School of Political Science & Sociology at NUI Galway.  This occasionally makes me feel like a superhero. This intrepid group, somewhere on a scale between the Justice League and the Legion of Doom, meets once a month to discuss work related to our own research interests that has some relation to the notion of power, broadly defined.  This month we are reading the first chapter from Prof. Wendy Brown‘s recent book Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010).  The lecture posted here basically covers the same ground.  Her argument is that the proliferation of walls and walling that we are witnessing worldwide, such as ‘The Wall’ separating Israel and Palestine  or the one on the US-Mexico Border, is a feature of contemporary globalization and (paradoxically, despite the theatrical show of physical dominance that such walls might symbolize) signals the waning of sovereignty for the nation-state.  These walls are not built to defend states from other national actors but rather to target nonstate, transnational actors, such as migrants and ‘terrorist’ groups etc.  For Brown, who wishes to differentiate her argument from Agamben (Homo Sacer) and Hardt and Negri (Empire), key to the loss of this national sovereignty are the domination of free-floating global capital and ‘God-sanctioned political violence’.  Rather than being a sign of nation-state dominance, these walls actually represent a deep-seated national anxiety about increasing sovereign impotence and an aspect of  the ‘theater state’ (though she does not mention Geertz here).  What is perhaps most interesting is her discussion of the ‘state of emergency’/’state of exception’, always provisional and temporary, yet a perpetual and seemingly permanent feature of the contemporary world.  This, of course, is well-trodden ground, particularly by (again) Agamben, following Schmitt.  But this is perhaps where I  also part company with Brown and her analysis of the waning of the nation-state, which may be a little over-stated.  Is it not the case that, for Schmitt, this discourse of the state of exception, or more specifically, the capacity or power to declare a state of exception is central to the notion of state sovereignty.  Far from being a sign of a weakened nation-state, is this capacity not a sure sign of the state’s enduring power?  And one which is exercised, when it is exercised (power is a capacity and should not be confused with it’s exercise), often in the face of vocal international opposition, such as in the case of Israel.

In any case, I enjoyed the chapter and hope to finish the book.  Enjoy the talk.

Richard Sennett: Together. RSA Keynote Talk, Feb 2nd, 2012

Here is a link to the audio of an RSA Keynote by Richard Sennett from February 2nd, 2012, in which he discusses his new book, Together: the rituals, pleasure and politics of cooperation (2012).   This is the second volume of his “homo faber” trilogy, sitting between 2008’s The Craftsman and a future work on the urban environment and its co-construction.  A Guardian review of the book is here.   The RSA blurb is below.

Living with people who differ – racially, ethnically, religiously, or economically – is one of the most difficult challenges facing us today. Though our society is becoming ever more complicated materially, we tend to avoid engaging with people unlike ourselves. Modern politics emphasizes unity and similarity, encouraging the politics of the tribe rather than of complexity.

At the RSA, distinguished sociologist Richard Sennett explores why this has happened and what might be done about it, arguing that living with people unlike ourselves requires more than goodwill: it requires skill.