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Share your Research

with Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory

Deadline: June 30, 2020

Guest co-editor

Lars Tønder: (Universit of Copenhagen)


Affect and Reason in Deeply Divided Societies

We would like to invite you to submit your paper to a special issue on ‘Affect and Reason in Deeply Divided Societies.

The relationship between affect and reason has become a contested and hotly debated issue in social and political theory. The debate is to a large extent a product of public debates about the need to create a shared language through which sources of division and conflict can be addressed. Thus, along one trajectory, we find a host of theories and research programs which posit reason as a shared human faculty that can be expressed independently of religion, culture, and ethnicity. Typically associated with the works of thinkers such as Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls, this argument has become a mainstay of normative debates about deliberative democracy and multiculturalism, culminating in what Rainer Forst calls “the right to justification,” i.e., the right of all citizens to have public policies justified according to principles of generality and reciprocity.

Along another trajectory, this appeal to reason—and the abstraction it implies—is criticized in two ways: first, for disavowing the role of affects in public life; and second, for failing to appreciate the hidden (and often messy) dimensions of socio-political subjectivities, and how they predetermine structures of power and privilege. Affect theory relies on both modes of criticism when it turns to a different model of analysis, one in which the demand for abstract norms is replaced with immersion into what William Connolly, Talal Asad, and others call the “micropolitics” of late modern life. Rather than looking to what might unite us across cultural and religious differences, this immersion aims to pluralize who we are as individual citizens and as engaged members of deeply divided societies.

Without dismissing the important differences between these two research trajectories, the goal of this special issue is to break down the implied division of labor between them. Rather than approaching affect and reason primarily as opposites, we invite papers that explore them as mutually constitutive, creating the ground for a new framework that in turn may generate new insights into the conditions and possibilities of living together in deeply divided societies. It is only by analyzing affect and reason in conjunction that we can grasp address contemporary social challenges, which concern the very terms of public debate and therefore require us to rethink existing conceptions of the limits and potentials of both affect and reason as sources of social and political integration.

This call for papers welcomes submissions from a wide range of disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, anthropology, political science, media and communication studies, philosophy, history of ideas, and literature. We are especially interested in submissions that avoid a sharp distinction between empirical and theoretical work, but instead see the two as mutually enriching. Among the many possible topics to be addressed, the following three aspects stand out as particularly relevant:

Affect and reason in contemporary conflicts: One line of inquiry concerns the intersecting roles of affect and reason in contemporary conflicts such as Catalan independence, Brexit, far-right parties, climate change and ecological justice, and/or racism in the United States. While there has been some scholarship that analyzes conflicts such as these from the combined perspective of affect and reason, there is still a need for further research. Drawing on cases like the ones just mentioned (but also others), papers may address the following questions: how do specific modes of affect inform practices of reason and justification? How do some modes of affect augment conflict, and how do others point to greater pluralism? Do reason and justification imply their own affective dimensions, and if so how are these experienced and mobilized in struggles for recognition and inclusion?

Democracy between affect and reason: Another line of inquiry pursues the normative aspects of affect and reason as entangled phenomena. Typically, affect is associated with unruly forms of populism that threaten the possibility of a well-ordered democratic society. However, if affect and reason operate in entangled ways, then the issue is not how to save democracy from affect, but rather how to make affect governable in ways that expand and foster practices of public reason in specific context and across time and place. This way of posing the issue raises a number of important normative questions. Are some constellations of affect and reason more desirable than others, and if so how and why? Are affects subject to the same practices of justification as reason? How does the inclusion of affect in public reason change the way we conceptualize ideals of accountability, representation, and transparency?

The entangled histories of affect and reason: A third line of inquiry concerns how affect and reason have emerged in the history of ideas, especially in thinkers like Spinoza and Kant, both of whom play important roles in contemporary scholarship on affect and reason. While each typically is associated with one side of the debate, they both acknowledge the importance of affect and reason. A study of how this acknowledgement is formulated—and how it is nurtured and extended throughout the history of ideas—may provide a better conceptualization of the co-constitutive nature of affect and reason. How did contemporary scholarship come to envision affect and reason as opposites, and how might new and more inclusive readings of thinkers such as Spinoza and Kant counter this perception? Has the division between affect and reason more to do with demands in the present than in the past, and if so, how might we engage the history of ideas in order to undo the impasses that define contemporary scholarship?


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All submitted papers will be evaluated by the editors, and publication decisions are based on double-blind peer review. We are happy to receive inquiries by email.

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