an intensity of feeling: on Thrift’s spatial politics of affect

August 11, 2011

Nigel Thrift’s intensities of feeling begins as an attempt to overcome the alleged neglect in the study of the ‘affective register’ in cities in a bid to work towards a spatial politics of affect. In the execution of this though, he appears to take any opportunity presented to not talk directly of the relationship of affect to the urban realm, which I see here as a physical/temporal state operating on and by the social patterns and actions of its inhabitants.

After isolating four distinct narratives in the discussion and definition of affect he moves to discuss the relationship between our affective states and the political (and capitalist) institutions that seek to engage them, and he argues that also seek to hijack them. Which, if we take affect as the richly expressive/aesthetic feeling-cum-behaviour of continual becoming (an interface as it were in the continual build up of self), then any kind of direct engagement with our affective registers can and should also be seen as attempt at massive social/cultural engineering. Thrift labels this affective relationship with our institutions microbiopolitics, a system that seems only capable of disabling the greater democratic political institutions that seek to harness it. If we see Thrift’s microbiopolitics as a space of not only facial/bodily empathy with our political leaders (Reagan) but also as a space of image/media saturation and ten second dog whistle grabs, then this practice of microbiopolitics in addressing our highly charged pre-thought states in an attempt at effecting our secondary responses can surely only lead to an unintelligible mess of unmediated affect, a mob in other words.

So when affect becomes a ‘learned response, a product of social construction’ what does that say about our ability to control the development of self? It appears that our control over self is the key in disarming the threat of a controlled self. By being aware of this field of microbiopolitics can we be oppressed by it? Perhaps not, but it appears the responsibility to become our world is on our shoulders and not theirs.

Kim Bridgland


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