Seminar Series 2020-2021: Crowds, Affects, Cities

The QMUL Centre for the History of the Emotions and The QMUL City Centre are jointly convening a seminar series in 2020-1 to explore crowds, emotions and urban space.

Covid-19 has caused widespread disruption to the pleasures and possibilities of gathering in cities, bringing new forms of anxiety to urban encounters and witnessing crowd scenes, whether lockdown protests or the jubilant celebrations after the US election. 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 and we’ll send you the Zoom link.

Convenors: Tiffany Watt Smith, Regan Koch, and Pen Woods

For more information, please contact




Wednesday 2nd December 1-2pm

Dr Illan Wall (Law, Warwick University)

 The State of Unrest: Crowds, Protests, Atmospheres

In late 1935, Georges Bataille could feel it. He addressed the Contre-Attaque group as Paris was consumed by protest and counter-protest: ‘What drives the crowds into the street is the emotion directly aroused by striking events in the atmosphere of a storm, it is the contagious emotion that, from house to house, from suburb to suburb, suddenly turns a hesitating man into a frenzied being’. The city had become the bearer of new affects. The atmosphere of the storm gathered over it. The clouds were dark with threat, anxiety and excitement. As the protests, riots, marches and strikes continued, this crisis of feeling spread. It thickened. It began to stick to bodies, condensing in every little interaction. The affects of the disorder spread through the city, through the country. France was gripped by a state of unrest. In this paper I will develop the core analysis of my forthcoming book Law and Disorder (Routledge, 2021), I will explore the ways in which atmospheres of crowded protest can seep out from protests or occupations. How the streets around a crowded event can fill with different feelings, and how those feelings can very quickly spread out around a city, a country, a region and at times even around the world. It is about how these affects can be felt among the populace as the opening of new (exciting and/or terrifying) political, social and legal possibilities. In short, I will suggest that in the state of unrest what is socially and politically possible can be radically redefined.

Illan rua Wall is a Reader at the Warwick Law School. He works on questions of unrest, protest and affective atmospheres. His next book is due out soon, entitled Law and Disorder (Routledge 2021). Illan is one of the founding editors of the blog and the open access publisher Counterpress. He sits on the editorial board of Law and Critique, and is the Co-Director of Warwick’s Centre for Critical Legal Studies.

Wednesday 16th December, 8pmNOTE DIFFERENT TIME

 Dr Ben Gook (History, University of Melbourne)

 Collectivity and Affect in Crisis Times: Dancing in Berlin, 1989-2020

The Fall of the Berlin Wall launched a wave of ecstatic raving and clubbing across Berlin. That wave’s force has carried the city’s clubbing scene right through to today—although it has met an unforeseen break in this year of Covid restrictions. For thirty years, the thump of bass has never gone so silent. In this paper, I’ll put my previous work on ecstasy and melancholy in Berlin around 1989 in dialogue with recent developments, as clubbers, DJs and producers contend with a moment in which collectives and crowds have become sites of anxiety. I’ll consider the attempts to replicate the clubbing experience online, as well as the irrepressible raving energies that have seen illegal parties take place against stringent public health measures.

Ben Gook is lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Melbourne. He was previously an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow at Humboldt University in Berlin and an associate investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotion in Melbourne. Relevant publications includeDivided Subjects, Invisible Borders: Re-unified Germany after 1989 (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015) and “Ecstatic Melancholic: Ambivalence, Electronic Music and Social Change around the Fall of the Berlin Wall” in Emotions: History, Culture, Society (2017). He also has a forthcoming book, Feeling Alienated: How Alienation Returned in Contemporary Capitalism, which will be available in the Histories of Emotions and the Senses series with Cambridge University Press in 2021.