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Affective and Affecting Research: Researching Affect in the Social Sciences - Colloquium

Starts: 26 March 2010

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A One Day Colloquium: School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University

Researching Affect and Affective Communication Network

Organised by ESRC National Centre for Research Methods Networks for Methodological Innovation


This final colloquium, organised by the group disseminated the activities of the group to a wider audience of around 100 academics and research students.

The day consisted of an introduction, ‘What is affect?’ by Lisa Blackman and Professor Couze Venn, Nottingham Trent in which they summarised recent thinking about affect,  using a variety of traditions from the humanities and social sciences. See also the Special Issue of Body and Society on affect. This was followed by workshops illuminating methods for researching affect:

  • Affect and writing
  • Affect  and Rhythmic Communications

The aim of the workshop was to explore, using different examples, the ways in which the affective dimensions of situations and events can be understood in relation to patterns of rhythm and vibration. This idea builds upon a long tradition of process-oriented theory identified with thinkers such as Tarde, Whitehead, Bachelard, Deleuze and Guattari and Lefebvre, but these ideas tend to remain highly abstract.

After an introduction, the workshop was divided into two parts. The first part was entitled 'Pan, Panic and Pattern'. The broad idea was that contributors would draw out rhythm analytical observations in relation to concrete objects or events. The session began with a paper by Miquel Domenech (from the Autonomous University of Barcelona) who talked about the affective rhythms associated with a fire-extinguisher, and the ways in which this object helps to lend order to an event of crisis. Paul Stenner then provided a rapid rhythm analysis of an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, drawing attention to the ways in which the emotional content of the show is formed by waves of patterned rhythm at various levels of analysis. Julian Henriques connected the previous two contributions through a discussion of Titian's The Flaying of Marsyas. An overarching theme was developed indicating the manner in which 'chaotic' circumstances are contained and regulated by way of rhythmic patterns.

The second part was entitled 'Space, place, rest and movement'. Felicity Callard explored some of the implications of recent neuroscientific ideas about brain rhythms in resting states and Louise Madden spoke about some of her own research on the patterned inscription of meaning into mundane household space. Gabrielle Ivinson presented a critical juxtaposition of the daily life rhythms of young people from the South Wales Valleys, and the rhythms that pattern their school environment, drawing attention to the disjunctions between the two.

The session ended with an interesting open discussion of the issues raised, focussing on the strengths and limitations of rhythm analysis in the study of affect.



Lefebvre, Henri and Régulier, Catherine [1985] Le Project Rhythmanalytique, in Communications, 41

Lefebvre, Henri (2004) Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life, London: Continuum

Lunt, P. & Stenner, P. (2005) The Jerry Springer Show as an Emotional Public Sphere. Media, Culture and Society. 27 (1): 59-81.


How do researchers understand participants? Using affect as an instrument of research knowing


How is affective communication implicated in the eliciting, analysis and production of knowledge? Affective dynamics underpin intersubjective relationships through which relevant experiences and data are identified, elicited and experienced. These observed experiences are then translated into analytical formats and practices which risk obliterating their complex affective and inter-subjective texture. Even after the relatively recent ‘self-reflexive turn’, social sciences still retain a number of unfortunate dualisms: mind-body, cognition-affect, objectivity-subjectivity, conscious-unconscious. As a result, it feels dangerous, if not impossible, to use affective communication as an instrument of knowing in our research practice because it is deemed unreliable, invalid, unethical. At the same time, it is impossible not to use affect because the achievement of meaning is impossible without it.

Psychoanalysis, especially since the turn from drives, (with object relations and relational traditions) has developed an epistemology that welcomes and uses affect as part of knowing and there are parts of psychoanalytic theory and practice that can be adapted for research. Psychoanalysis is consistent with the constructionist suspicion of impartial knowledge, as it theorises the psychic mediations that are likely to lead to inaccurate, unethical research knowing. The combination of psychoanalytically informed methodologies with the self-reflexive techniques and long period of participant observation foreseen by anthropology and qualitative sociology can be seen as particularly apt to research social phenomena in innovative ways.

Wendy Hollway will present an outline of inter-subjective and psychoanalytically informed approaches and methodologies. The workshop will be based on a short video by Nick Mai, drawing on original interview material with young men working in the (sex) tourism industry in Tunisia. Nick Mai will introduce the video and the research context within which the audio-visual material informing it was gathered. The watching and listening of the video will be followed by discussions about group members’ feelings, sensations and imaginings and the way these form part of their understanding of interviewees, their experiences and relationship to their work and their life trajectories. Discussions will be first organised in smaller groups, whose observations will then be shared with and discussed by the whole group.

  • Methodological implications of attending to rhythmic forms of communication summary
  • Dreaming the social

Gordon Lawrence, the founder of social dreaming led a social dreaming matrix in which participants shared dreams. As with the matrix that he led during the creativity seminar, the ability of this method to engage with affective dynamics in the group was quite remarkable. It was also able to bring to light concerns about the future political climate and the situation in higher education.


Workshop for PhD students run by PhD students to explore researching affect and affective experiences in the PhD research


As part of the Colloquium we ran a workshop for doctoral students. The series of seminars aimed to consider the methodological implications of researching affect through the consideration of the many meanings affect has assumed. The primary aim of the workshop was to bring doctoral students working with affect together in order to establish some form of a community across Cardiff University schools and other UK schools. There were more than twenty five people involved in the discussions that firstly considered the notion of affect in relation to the experience of PhD students new to the academic institution. As each one of us had different personal and family backgrounds and draw on different theoretical elements in our work, it was a very lively and engaging discussion demonstrating that affect is emerging in many different disciplinary areas.

The first part of the forum concentrated on the experience of encounters with various aspects of academic life and considered how these affective experienced have contributed, enhanced, constrained or developed our academic work. We considered the context and setting of academic life and how our personal histories have been connected to the way in which we have orientated ourselves within this space and how our own subjectivities have been moved from encountering theoretical affective concepts. This kind of informal discussion was a very useful way of linking some of the theoretical affect work to people’s everyday lives as a way of bringing some of the theory alive.  Each attendee provided an overview of their work and what became evident was that there were many different ways in which individuals were deploying affect. There was a general consensus within the group that much of the theoretical work was intimidating and sometimes difficult to comprehend in relation to the many different subject areas of our PhD.

There were people in attendance of the workshop from many different disciplinary areas from different universities. A really promising feeling that came from being involved in this workshop was the affinity between members. There was a general consensus between the group that working with affect and its associated theoretical bodies of knowledge do challenge more traditional ways of thinking in the Social Sciences and that this led to a feeling of isolation within the context of wider departments in Schools. There was agreement to continue some kind of dialogue between each other and potentially create a forum where we can share papers, ideas, conference information and most importantly provide a forum for creating a sense of community.


Using psychoanalytic observational methods: Cathy Urwin

In this workshop Cathy Urwin presented a number of examples of observation.



The day ended with a plenary panel in which a number of the group made short presentations reflecting upon the series in relation to their own research.

Wendy Hollway - paper

Paul Stenner - paper

Debra Ferreday - paper

Constantina Papoulias - paper

Felicity Callard - paper

John Cromby - paper

Cecilia Love - paper

The group also reflected upon what the seminar series had meant to them.



Videos for this Colloquium are available here.




Methodological Handbook

Affect: Methodological Handbook for Social Research

Edited by Valerie Walkerdine

One outcome of the series is a Methodological Handbook, which presents key concepts in affect research with illustrations of key research methods and studies related to this concept. We are currently negotiating with a publisher.



Name: Professor Valerie Walkerdine

Other information

Open To: Invitation Only