Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic
For many philosophers, the rational cognitive (Cartesian) subject defines the human, or at least defines what humans should be. Yet some recent cognitive science, as well as the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, has called into question such individuality and rationality and emphasized social and emotional subjectivity. Understanding such embodied and embedded subjectivity, John Protevi argues, demands the notion of bodies politic.
In Political Affect, Protevi investigates the relationship between the social and the somatic: how our bodies, minds, and social settings are intricately and intimately linked. Bringing together concepts from science, philosophy, and politics, he develops a perspective he calls political physiology to indicate that subjectivity is socially conditioned and sometimes bypassed in favor of a direct connection of the social and the somatic, as with the politically triggered basic emotions of rage and panic. Protevi's treatment of affective cognition in social context breaks new theoretical ground, insisting that subjectivity be studied both in its embodied expression and in terms of the distribution of affective cognitive responses in a population.
Moving beyond the theoretical, Protevi applies his concept of political affect to show how unconscious emotional valuing shaped three recent, emotionally charged events: the cold rage of the Columbine High School slayings, the racialized panic that delayed rescue efforts in Hurricane Katrina, and the twists and turns of empathy occasioned by the Terry Schiavo case. These powerful individual and collective political events require new philosophical understanding.