‘Political affects in public space’

Reading through Clive Barnett’s ‘Political affects in public space: normative blind-spots in non-representational ontologies’ paper from Transactions (2008 – freely available here), and came across a quotable snippet of criticism for notions of affect in non-representational geography. Here it is:

The ontologisation of affect as a layer of preconscious ‘priming to act’ reduces embodied action simply to the dimension of being attuned to and coping with the world. This elides the aspect of embodied knowing that involves the capacity to take part in ‘games of giving and asking for reasons’. While the ontologisation of theory in human geography has been accompanied by claims to transform and reconfigure understandings of what counts as ‘the political’, this project has been articulated in a register which eschews the conventions of justification, that is, the giving and asking for reasons. This is particularly evident when it comes to accounting for why the contemporary deployment of affective energy in the public realm is bad for democracy. (189-190)

What Barnett is saying firstly is that by roping off the dimension of ‘affect’ as being pre-conscious, unthought, or of lacking reason (as background attunement), we mistakenly also deny a form of  individual political action in the process. That specifically, people are dupes to the political manipulation undertaken by those with access to affectual infrastructures, in ‘the half-second delay between action and cognition’ (Thrift 2007: 245 as quoted by Barnes: 191). In other words, that people are susceptible to sub-conscious manipulation by the powers that be!

But then in turn, he says that Nigel Thrift’s non-rep vision (Barnett quotes his 2007 book Non-representational Theory) hides from justifying it’s own normative views on what politics should be (and specifically, what form democratic politics should take). As Barnett (p.190) then suggests, this ‘closes down the inconclusive conversations upon which democratic cultural politics depends (Rorty 2006)’.

I’m still reading through it now but shall provide some more thoughts in another post. Although what I will say is that I too think that Thrift has somewhat under-theorized what this momentary ‘half-second delay’ consists of, and how exactly  this space is filled by other actors (the media etc.). It certainly does come across as a little scaremonger-y and maybe lacks the empirics to back up these claims. Barnett’s right to prise this space back open and question what lies within.

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