The Rubbishing of Discourse…
Margaret Wetherell’s new book Affect and Emotion: a New Social Science Understanding (Sage) arrived on my desk last week. Although it covers similar territory to Virality, namely affective contagion, it moves in a very different direction. It does so by forwarding a series of contentious problems facing nonrepresentational theory which require some attention here. Indeed, nonrepresentational theorists should perhaps take heed of the efforts of some social scientists intent on forcing the entire social through the lenses of the representational paradigm. They are no longer simply content to dismiss the claims of nonrepresentational theory as an incomprehensible and misguided fascination with the uncanny, but look to further impose the tools of representation on subrepresentational forces. In effect, what Wetherell attempts to do is wrestle affective contagion back from the likes of Brennan and Thrift, trying to force it into a representational space. Her distain for nonrepresentational theorists is abundantly clear. Her argument is indeed decisively aimed at what she sees as their “rubbishing of discourse.” This feels like payback time.
Affect and Emotion argues that for many people working in cultural studies, including Clough, Massumi, Sedgwick and Thrift, affect is interesting only because it is “not discourse” (p. 19). Massumi, for example, “draws a thick line between bodily movements or forces and social sense making.” Contrary to such Deleuzian flights of fantasy, it seems, human affect is rather “inextricably linked,” Wetherell claims, to meaning-making, the semiotic and the discursive. For Wetherell these are the guiding forces of affect.
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