Covid-19 has caused widespread disruption to the pleasures and possibilities of gathering in cities, bringing new forms of anxiety and uncertainty to urban encounters. As we make do in this time of social distancing, it seems a prime opportunity to assemble (online) and reflect on the intensities, emotions and experiences of urban crowds.
The seminar series aims to be interdisciplinary and international in scope, focused on 35 minute presentations with time for questions and discussion to follow. Anyone interested is welcome to join.
Register your interest by contacting one of the convenors below, and we’ll send you the Zoom link.
Convenors: Tiffany Watt Smith, Regan Koch, and Pen Woods
For more information, please contact
“Sound, Knowledge and Space: the reggae sound system as an apparatus for the production affective intensities.”
Sound System Outernational #5 Naples, Italy (Astarbene, 2020,12 min)
This talk proposes that sound waves, auditory mechanics and the propagation of sounding provide a useful model for understanding the production and transmission of affect. Feelings are literally vibratory. It takes the Jamaican dancehall sound system session as an apparatus for the production affective intensities. Here the audio engineers developed the highly skilled knowledge and practices, that I name as phonomorphic (sound-shaping) techniques, with which they use frequencies and amplitudes to “engineer” the vibes of the crowd. While from ancient times it has been appreciated that music communicates feelings and is freighted with emotions and associations, I argue that the sounding of the music provides an excellent analogue for the feeling of affect; both are non-representational. With the shared social experience of the space of the dancehall session volume (dB) or pressure equates with affective intensity, pitch with charge or excitement, auditory diffusion with affective transmission and rhythm or refrain with entrainment and attunement. “Feeling moved” and moving (dance) become different sides of the same coin. This dynamic situated, embodies and shared vibratory approach can be contrasted with more familiar visual relationships of reflection and gaze structured by the single point of view.
7th April, 1pm BST
Dr Nida Kirmani (Lahore University)
Playing at the Boundary: Exploring the Relationship between Feminism and Fun in Karachi
Khel Khel Mein (Playing at the Boundary) tells the story of three young people from the area of Lyari in Karachi–an area that is known for being one of the most conflict-ridden parts of the city. However, Lyari is also one of the oldest, most diverse and vibrant parts of the city. Each of the young people features in this documentary are pushing gender boundaries in their own unique ways. Mehreen is a champion boxer. Zulekha teaches girls and young women how to cycle and takes them out for regular rides, and Sidu is an activist who challenges gender roles and binaries. All three are struggling to bring a change in their communities and in society in general and having fun in the process. The session will include a screening of this short documentary and a discussion of the relationship between fun and feminism in Lyari and beyond.
Dr. Nida Kirmani is Associate Professor of Sociology in the Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Nida has published widely on issues related to gender, Islam, women’s movements, development and urban studies in India and Pakistan. She completed her PhD in 2007 from the University of Manchester in Sociology. Her book, Questioning ‘the Muslim Woman’: Identity and Insecurity in an Urban Indian Locality, was published in 2013 by Routledge. Her current research focuses on urban violence, gender and insecurity in the area of Lyari in Karachi.
5th May: POSTPONED
Dr Karen Engle (University of Windsor, Canada) and Dr Yoke-Sum Wong (Alberta University of the Arts, Canada)
Thinking About Feeling: Once more with…
We will discuss our recent book project, Feelings of Structure: Explorations in Affect and our research-creation project and exhibition, Structures of Anticipation. The edited book addressed the built environment as spatial attunements. The essays explored the affective consciousness of spatial form/s that is at once social and personal – emergent and emerging and ever in process in an ‘interrelating continuity’. How do spatial forms contribute to, as Susan Lepselter writes, an ethnography of emergent feeling? How do we feel these spaces and world them – taking worlding as a way of apprehension and comprehension – giving it a structure that we make (non)sense of. What are the emergent feelings, strategies and practices that are integrated into our material and experiential world? Reversing Raymond Williams’ influential essay, “Structures of Feeling”, we ask how and in what way we could address the mixed experiences to which ‘the fixed forms do not speak at all’. We felt, to capture the traces of the experiences, the reverse phrasing, “feelings of structure,” was a more intriguing invitation to grasping the (un)/knowable.
The project Structures of Anticipation emerged out of working on the book as well as other related individual projects. The theme “anticipation” attended to the anxious unknowables of the times during the Trump years and before the pandemic happened. The theme hinged on the “sensation” of anticipation – circulating forces that build up, the turning of the corner, hope, reverie or of impending dread, anxiety, trepidation, as we refreshed our social media feed – and how it affected our daily material lives.
Dr Karen Engle is Associate Professor at the University of Windsor, Canada, in the School of Creative Arts, Windsor, Ont. Canada
Dr Yoke-Sum Wong is Associate Professor at the School of Critical and Creative Studies at the Alberta University of the Arts (formerly ACAD) in Calgary, Ab. Canada
Dr Deborah Gould (University of California)
Passions & Danger in Trump’s Time and After
This talk is animated by my own recently roused fear of the crowd. I offer a way to think about politics and emotion in a moment that has witnessed handwringing across the political spectrum about the so-called masses’ unruly passions dangerously seeping into the political realm and bringing with them Brexit, Trump, and the explosion of rightwing authoritarianism across the globe. Classical liberal and democratic theorists have a response to the fear of the crowd: the political realm requires rational deliberation, and thus passions that might interfere must and can be exorcised, or at least sequestered from public, political life. What, then, should we conclude in this moment where it has become obvious, if it wasn’t before, that the political is awash in passions, and some very frightening passions at that? Faced with the madding crowds of the Brexit/Trump/QAnon era, liberal and democratic theory might lead us to the conclusion that liberal institutions have not and cannot keep our unruly passions in check, that democracy thus cannot work, that, in short, people’s passions make them, us, unfit for democracy. But is it not possible to acknowledge that the political is saturated with emotion without going down the crowd theorists’ path that denies the demos our political capacities? My aim with this talk is political as much as conceptual: we need a better rendering of politics and emotion in order to grasp the current moment. Through an exploration of crowds, affect, and the political, the talk considers left activist compositional tasks amid the felt contingency of the current moment.
Deborah Gould, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the author of Moving Politics: Emotion and Act Up’s Fight Against Aids (University of Chicago Press, 2009). She is currently writing a book titled Composing Collectivities: Appetite, Encounters, and the Not-Yet of Politics.