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The Distribution of Emotions: Affective Politics of Emancipation


Currently, affect and emotions are a widely discussed political topic. At least since the early 1990s, different disciplinesfrom the social sciences and humanities to science and techno- sciencehave increasingly engaged in studying and conceptualizing affect, emotion, feeling, and sensation, evoking yet another turn that is frequently framed as the “affective turn.” Within queer feminist affect theory, two positions have emerged: following Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s well-known critique, there are either more “paranoid” or more “reparative” approaches toward affect. Whereas the latter emphasize the potentialities of affect, the former argue that one should question the mere idea of affect as liberation and promise. Here, I suggest moving beyond a critique or celebration of affect by embracing the political ambiva- lence of affect. For this queer feminist theorizing of affective politics, I adapt Jacques Ran- ci ere’s theory of the political and particularly his understanding of emancipation. Ranci ere takes emancipation into account without, however, uncritically endorsing or celebrating a politics of liberation. I draw on his famous idea of the “distribution of the sensible” and re- frame it as the “distribution of emotions,” by which I develop a multilayered approach toward a nonidentitarian, nondichotomous, and emancipatory queer feminist theory of affec- tive politics.

Affect and emotions are currently a widely discussed political topic. Affect has been identified as having significantly informed neoliberal US politics since the 1980s through a “moral-emotional rhetoric” (Berlant 2005, 49) and “affective epidemics” (Grossberg 1992, 281). In the aftermath of 9/11, emotions have become profoundly politicized, enforcing a widely racialized and culturalized politics of fear (Ahmed 2004; Puar 2007) and invoking a national sentimental politics of (male) protection in the US (Faludi 2007). According to Judith Butler, the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reveal “how affect is regulated to support both the war effort and, more spe- cifically, nationalist belonging” (Butler 2009, 40). Furthermore, the transformation of the Western state has been framed in terms of affect and emotion. Birgit Sauer, for

Hypatia vol. 30, no. 3 (Summer 2015) © by Hypatia, Inc.

Brigitte Bargetz


instance, emphasizes “affective governmentality” (Sauer 2015), and Patricia T. Clough speaks of the “biomediated body” (Clough 2010, 207) as an affective form of biopolitical governing. Similarly, a mode of governing through emotions is visible within the contemporary political and financial crises in which emotions have become a placeholder for publicly negotiating the il/legitimacy of political protests (Bargetz and Freudenschuss 2012). The growing debates on affective politics also challenge today’s understandings of democracy. This is apparent in Butler’s argument for a “sensate democracy” (Butler and Spivak 2007) or in Chantal Mouffe’s emphasis on passions as a possibility for political mobilizing toward democratic ends (Mouffe 2002). Such ideas of affective democracies are echoed in recent uprisingsfrom Cairo to New York, Madrid to London, Istanbul to Rio de Janeirobringing to light a “new political economy of affects” (Lorey 2012, 45). Yet the question of affect is not only embedded within processes of social and polit- ical transformation. Numerous academic fields have recently dedicated themselves to what some call a new “affect dispositive” (Angerer 2014). Since the early 1990s at least, different disciplinesfrom the social sciences and humanities to science and technosciencehave been increasingly engaged in studying and conceptualizing affect, emotion, feeling, and sensation, evoking yet another turn that is frequently framed as the “affective turn” (Clough 2010; Koivunen 2010; Pedwell and Whitehead 2012). This turn is shaped by a desire to shift paradigms as, for instance, the lively debate about affect, poststructuralism, and/or psychoanalysis indicates (Terada 2001; Sedgwick 2003; Hemmings 2005; Angerer 2014), as well as by a desire to rethink the material and the bodily in terms of the political (Navaro-Yashin 2009; Chen 2011). From a feminist perspective, the turn to affect is especially interesting. On the one hand, emotions and the body have always been of major interest within feminist theory and philosophy, challenging main- and malestream understandings of the subject, politics, critique, and knowledge production. On the other hand, the current debate on affect is invested in envisioning new forms of queer and feminist research (Koivunen 2010; Pedwell and Whitehead 2012). Unlike scholars who emphasize the potentialities of affect, I argue, along with others, that we must critically assess the mere idea of affect as promise. Emphasizing the potentialities, I claim, recirculates within a liberal logic by politically romanticizing emotions and thus risks falling prey to the restorative and liberating power of affect (Berlant 2000; Hemmings 2005; Bargetz 2014), thereby enhancing a fantasy of a post-politics (Tyler 2008). Yet, con- trary to what Anu Koivunen has accurately outlined as two newly emerging and, at times, contrasting feminist camps of critique or affirmation (Koivunen 2010), I suggest embracing the political ambivalence of affect (Bargetz 2014). I propose that only such a perspective allows us to move beyond this opposition and, consequently, to fully grasp the political potential of affect. Emphasizing the ambivalence of affects helps us consider how emotions are embedded within (heteronormative, racist, and classed) power relations as well as how affects may serve as a critical and mobilizing force for queer feminist politics. For this ambivalent understanding of affective politics, I adapt French philosopher Jacques Ranci ere’s theory of the political. I draw on his famous idea of the



“distribution of the sensible” and reframe it through a queer feminist perspective as the “distribution of emotions.” This might seem surprising, since Ranci ere does not consider questions of affect, gender, and sexuality. His approach is neither feminist nor has it been taken up widely within feminist debates. In the 1970s, along with Genevi eve Fraisse, he was one of the leading members of the French journal Les R evoltes Logiques (197581), which had two major interests: the “analysis of worker and women’s oppression,” suffering, however, as Oliver Davis acknowledges, from the “relative separation of its two halves” (Davis 2010, 46). This split also showed up in the debates between Ranci ere and Fraisse. Almost forty years later, Fraisse questions Ranci ere’s potential for analyzing emancipation and domination, as he not only equates domination with “the ‘discourse of domination’” (Fraisse 2013, 49), but also ignores masculine domination completely. Whereas feminist research has been reluc- tant to turn to Ranci ere’s work, queer theory has recently shown interest in his the- ory, even in the face of his own blind spots. In their introduction to a Borderlands special issue on Ranci ere and queer theory, Samuel A. Chambers and Michael O’Rourke point out that Ranci ere “has at best entirely ignored, at worst actively dis- dained the work of queer theory,” commenting on the “impending queering of his work” “with no small degree of amusement” (Chambers and O’Rourke 2009, 2). Although Ranci ere’s theory remains blind to queer studies, feminism, and affect, in this article I expose how his approach can be adapted in rethinking the current queer feminist debate on affect between critique and appreciation and explore the traces within his texts that allow for such a move. Ranci ere takes emancipation into account without, however, uncritically endorsing or even celebrating liberatory poli- tics. Yet in order to be able to refine this conceptualization of emancipation for con- temporary queer feminist theories of affect, it is necessary to reread Ranci ere by going beyond him. This means carving out the hidden openings and allusions to affect and emotions and weaving them together with queer and feminist insights on affect. In order to do so, I refer to a broad understanding of affect and emotion without draw- ing a sharp distinction between the two notions as, for instance, Brian Massumi sug- gests (Massumi 2002). In line with a specific queer feminist strand of affect theory (Berlant 2000; Ahmed 2004; Cvetkovich 2012), I understand feelings, affect, and emotion as deeply imbricated in the political and the social, and emphasize the bod- ily, psychic, and cognitive dimensions of affect. In this article I briefly map out, first, some of the main threads in queer feminist research on affective politics and argue against reducing affective politics either to a more positive or to a more skeptical reading of affect. In the following two steps, I show how Ranci ere’s political theory offers a way to support this objective. In the second section, I unfold Ranci ere’s understanding of emancipation, which requires discussing his twofold notion of politics. In the third section I demonstrate how this approach can be reread through a queer feminist theory of affect, which is rooted in the critique of modern Western dichotomies. I conclude by pointing out the poten- tials of thinking through what I call the “distribution of emotions” and how this can contribute to a queer feminist theory of affective politics. Here, affect becomes a mar- ker of political critique: on the one hand, it offers a mode of mobilizing conditions of

Brigitte Bargetz


inequality, which are (also) affectively distributed; on the other hand, it is a politics that is not rooted in identity, but takes the (affective) interruption of these condi- tions as a starting point for (collective) politics. I argue that thinking through the distribution of emotions allows us to criticize hierarchically structured power relations thatnot only but alsorelate to sex and gender. The distribution of emotions is not limited to theorizing the reproduction and transformation of gender relations, but informs a multilayered understanding of affective politics. It introduces modes of queer feminist engagement by going beyond a liberal and toward a nonidentitarian, nondichotomous politics of affect.


The current debate on affect, emotion, feeling, or sensation is nothing new to femi- nist research, particularly in feminist theory and philosophy. Crucial feminist contributions include challenging gendered binary oppositions, such as rationality/ emotionality and politics/emotions, along with other prominent dichotomies of Wes- tern modernity, such as culture/nature or mind/body (Jaggar 1989; Gatens 1995; Prok- hovnik 1999; Sauer 1999). Feminist critics have exposed these dichotomies as modern, heteronormative power mechanisms, as a “liberal dispositive of feelings” (Sauer 1999, 208), and as reproducing a hierarchical binary gender order that deva- lues and delegitimizes emotions along with those who are often characterized as emo- tional. Feminist, queer, and postcolonial scholarship has demonstrated how the devaluation and delegitimization of emotions is deeply embroiled in (theories of) modern capitalist politics and how such devaluations are tied to gender, race, and class (Frye 1983; Lorde 1984; Prokhovnik 1999; Ahmed 2000; 2004; Skeggs 2005). Whereas liberal theory associates politics with objectivity, rationality, interests, and progress, feminist research has pointed out the importance of emotions in politics. Feminist scholars have shown how emotionality and irrationality have been ascribed to specific subjects in order to create a hierarchical (gendered, racialized, class) order and to mobilize and fortify the patriarchal Western capitalist state. Consequently, feminist philosophers and political theorists have critically engaged with these attri- butions, exclusions, and delegitimizations by unfolding both the significance and power of emotions. In addition to addressing specific theoretical frameworks, such as critical knowledge production (Jaggar 1989), body politics (Gatens 1995), and femi- nist solidarity (Lorde 1984), such work has consistently drawn attention to how poli- tics is also governed by emotions. Within current queer feminist debates on affect, “two camps” (Koivunen 2010, 23) have appeared to emerge. For Koivunen, there are “at least implicitly and meta- phorically” two “new caricatures of feminist scholars”: “those for joy, those for melan- choly; those for life, those for death; those for reparative criticisms, those constrained by paranoia” (23). This discussion is inspired by a debate following Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s famous article “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You” (Sedgwick 2003). Sedgwick



criticizes “the mandatory injunction” (Sedgwick 2003, 125) of paranoid attitudes and methodologies within the context of US critical theory because of its “hermeneutics of suspicion” (124), an expression she borrows from Paul Ricœur. In her view, para- noid readings, which she identifies in Marxism, psychoanalysis, and poststructuralism alike, perform a mode of critique that concentrates on “exposure” and “unveiling hid- den” (13839) truth, and consequently on questions of power and domination. Sedg- wick criticizes that, by doing so, these approaches not only claim “ownership over the truth” (Love 2010, 23637) but also disavow the empowering potential of affect by focusing on negative affect, and remaining “averse above all to surprise” (Sedgwick 2003, 146). Countering this paranoid approach, Sedgwick emphasizes a more “repara- tive reading” that, as Heather Love summarizes, is rather “on the side of multiplicity, surprise, rich divergence, consolation, creativity, and love” (Love 2010, 237). Following Sedgwick’s intervention, some scholars in queer feminist theory argue that it is necessary to elaborate more on a reparative and emancipatory understanding of affect, which has also recently led to a debate on the so-called “reparative turn” (Feminist Theory 2014; Wiegman 2014). In terms of reparation, scholars claim that the current turn to affect promises new modes of critical inquiry as well as new forms of political agency. Others, such as Clare Hemmings, remain skeptical of this empha- sis on potentialities and “restorative power” (Hemmings 2005, 551). Hemmings remarks in her readings of Frantz Fanon’s and Audre Lorde’s descriptions of people’s “affective responses to their blackness” (561) that it is problematic to emphasize the positive side of affect, because it creates an “illusion of choice” (584). Thus, although affect may open up new possibilities, some affects are often only accessible to certain subjects, while others are “over-associated with affect” (561). Highlighting affect’s potential for reparation and surprise obscures affective attributions made to black and/or female bodies, and the manner in which they are deployed to the detriment of the subaltern. I argue along the lines of Hemmings’s critique of overestimating the reparative mode of affective politics and her cautioning against dismissing the power of critique. Romanticizing affective agency not only entails the risk of enforcing a politics of truthand thus a politics of authenticityit also disregards how social and political structures circulate through affect and thereby loses sight of those powers and forces that inhibit political agency. Yet I also build upon Sedgwick’s objection and claim that remaining within a paranoid framework is insufficient for conceptualizing a femi- nist politics of affect. Apart from embracing suspicion, such a perspective risks rein- forcing the (gendered, racialized, and classed) delegitimization of affect and emotion characteristic of modern Western politics and political theory, which has also been used to legitimize the exclusion of multiple “Others.” A theory of affective politics should thus neither ignore the power of affect nor celebrate affective politics as a new, all-encompassing form of politics (Bargetz 2014). Instead, I suggest a queer femi- nist theory of affective politics that considers the creative moments of affect as a means of solidarity and political mobilization while never losing sight of how affect is woven into the political and economic fabric and, thus, how emotions are used to politically mobilize gender, sexuality, race, and class. I propose that Jacques Ranci ere’s

Brigitte Bargetz


political theory and particularly his understanding of emancipation provides a useful framework for conceiving of such an approach that ultimately moves away from either reparation or paranoia.


Emancipation is more than a “tricky word” (Scott 2012, 5). In recent decades, eman- cipation has become a contested concept within political philosophy and social the- ory while other notionssuch as agencyhave become prevalent. Ambivalences about emancipation have been revealed in discussions on the entanglement of emancipatory subjects and oppressive forces, on the impossibility of constituting the demos as totality, and on the critique of a privileged emancipatory agent. It has been questioned whether the identity of the oppressed is part of the “subject struggling for emancipation” (Laclau 1996, 17) or that the emancipation of the politically excluded is the “criterion of general emancipation” and that the excluded thus “need to present themselves as the people of the people” (Balibar 2002, 26; his emphasis). Queer feminist voices have criticized that every form of emancipation from patriarchy and heteronormativity that is aimed at the state remains imbricated in the state’s monop- oly on rationality and legitimate violence (Reddy 2011, 3738). In a similar vein, Butler has emphasized that “feminist critique ought also to understand how the cate- gory of ‘women,’ the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought” (Butler 1990, 2). Calls for emancipation have also been challenged, since the prevailing liberal discourses in the global North are increasingly instrumentalizing the paradigm of women’s emancipa- tion as evidence for political progress. Consequently, the rhetoric of emancipation has been used to produce and delegitimize the global North’s “Others” (Ahmed 2000; Puar 2007; Mendel and Neuhold 2012) as well as to legitimize imperialist politics in the name of women’s liberation. In this vein, Joan Scott stresses that the “rhetoric of democracy in the service of global capital now includes the language of sexual eman- cipation and its imagined equation with gender equality” (Scott 2012, 20). Within these discourses, emancipation has not only been appropriated for specific national interests, it also suggests the idea that some must be emancipated by others. Similarly, feminist philosophy has criticized the androcentric and colonial premises of the Wes- tern notion of emancipation because it relies on the (patronizing) idea of being liber- ated, of being given freedom. Recently, however, a renewed emphasis has been placed on emancipation within academic debates, especially those concerned with the contemporary multiple crises and political uprisings worldwide that have emerged as responses to these crises. Numerous conferences signal a yearning to think through emancipation. Similarly, Nancy Fraser has asserted that feminist claims for emancipation need to be reintro- duced into critiques of capitalist society, as the contemporary capitalist crisis cannot be fully grasped if it is not framed as a “three-sided conflict among forces of market- ization, social protection, and emancipation” (Fraser 2013, 235).



Ranci ere’s approach to emancipation intervenes in these debates: not only has he never given up on the notion of emancipation, but he also goes beyond some of emancipation’s aporias. In times of post-democracy, he calls for emancipation by offering an alternative account of politics. In view of today’s multiple crises and upris- ings, his approach is a passionate yet still critical and careful claim for emancipation that maps out “one of the few consistent conceptualizations of how we are to continue to resist” ( Zi zek 2008, 79; his emphasis). In order to harness this potential, in the fol- lowing I elaborate on two decisive insights from Ranci ere’s theory: the question of knowledge production and his notion of the political. Both aspects emphasize equal- ity, which is crucial in order to understand his notion of emancipation. The significance of the power/knowledge nexus is apparent in Ranci ere’s double critique of emancipation in terms of mastery: on the one hand as a privileged emanc- ipatory agent and on the other hand as the institutionalization of emancipatory knowledge (Ranci ere 1991; 2004). “[N]o party of government, no army, school or institution,” he claims, “will ever emancipate a single person” (Ranci ere 1991, 102). Moreover, emancipation in terms of revealing some hidden truth beneath the surface is for Ranci ere a fantasy of Enlightenment and a “pedagogical myth” (7). For him, this is problematic, because it relies on the idea of a world that is “divided into knowing minds and ignorant ones” (7). In challenging this misconception, he creates the figure of the “ignorant schoolmaster,” whose project of emancipation is based on the fundamental assumption of an equality of intelligence among all human beings. Presuming equality among people is also at the core of Ranci ere’s theory of poli- tics. Referring to the struggles of the working class during the nineteenth century, he argues that emancipation was not based on the proletarians’ identities. Rather, these struggles appear as acts of emancipation because they indicate a “strong symbolic rup- ture” (Ranci ere 2004, 219). This “rupture in the order of things” (219) relies upon the assumption of equalitywhich, however, the political order denies the very moment it emerges. In this vein, in his groundbreaking book La M esentente (Disagree- ment), Ranci ere claims that “politics exists when the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part” (Ranci ere 1999, 11). Equating politics with emancipation, he sees emancipatory politics arise when those who are excluded from the existing sociopolitical order institute themselves as an excluded part by turning toward the principle of equality. Politics is at play when those who have no part emerge as an entity; Ranci ere calls this process “subjectivation.” Two theoretical insights follow from this under- standing: first, that politics brings to lightmanifestsan inequality, or a “miscount,” as Ranci ere calls it. In other words, emancipation uncovers, but does not overcome inequality; it illustrates the declaration of a wrong. Second, Ranci ere develops a mode of “nonidentary subjectification” (Ranci ere 1999, 100). 1 The subject of politics is not a group that “‘becomes aware’ of itself” (40). By placing an emphasis on subjec- tivation, Ranci ere illuminates the gap between an identified part within the commu- nity and the instituting political subject. This distance between the people and their part within the existing order implies that the process of emancipation involves a process of disidentification.

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In order to fully acknowledge this understanding of emancipation, it is necessary to further engage with Ranci ere’s twofold logic of the political: on the one hand, there is the logic of politics, which is synonymous with his notion of emancipation that I have outlined above; on the other hand, there is the logic of the police. Whereas the logic of politics designates an interruption based on equality, the logic of the police describes the dominant order. The police, however, is not another term for the state, but implies a broader form and technique of government. The police delineates a specific mode of organization that Ranci ere captures in his later work using the figure of the “distribution of the sensible,” le partage du sensible (Ranci ere 2009a, 85). The distribution of the sensible alludes to an organization of power, to a distribution of bodies, to an “allocation” (Ranci ere 1999, 29) of ways of doing and living, and to the mechanisms that legitimize this distribution. The distribution of the sensible is a “system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it” (Ranci ere 2008, 12). As the heteroge- neous translation of the French expression le partage discloses, distribution indicates both “division” (Ranci ere 2004, 224) and “partition” (Ranci ere 1999, 24), to “share out and to divide up” (Davis 2010, 91). 2 In this vein, Chambers stresses that distribu- tion describes “the sense of dividing up the world, of ordering it, of structuring it, on the one hand, and the sense of connection, of linkage, and sharing, on the other” (Chambers 2013, 70). The distribution of the sensible registers whose life and activi- ties are considered part of the community and whose are not; it designates who is heard and who is able to speak within the existing political order. Or, as Ranci ere writes, the “distribution of the sensible reveals who can have a share in what is com- mon to the community based on what they do and on the time and space in which this activity is performed. Having a particular ‘occupation’ thereby determines the ability or inability to take charge of what is common to the community” (Ranci ere 2008, 12). As the distribution of the sensible, the police is not synonymous with repression and control, but relates to the formation and distribution of places, people, bodies, and the senses. It describes what is visible and sayable (Ranci ere 1999, 29) and what remains outside, invisible, unsayable. The logic of the police displays the shared and the common as well as their excluded parts. Following from this and in view of developing a queer feminist perspective on affective politics, I want to highlight three aspects of Ranci ere’s notion of emancipa- tion. First, emancipation does not exist in itself but brings together two logics, the logic of politics and the logic of the police. Ranci ere does not deem those who exer- cise power to be situated on one side, and those subordinated to this very power to be on the other side. Politics does not exist because “the poor oppose the rich” (Ranci ere 1999, 11). Emancipation emerges in an encounter between politics and police, in which politics opposes the police, while the police constantly tries to pre- vent politics from happening. This encounter marks a political dispute, a disagree- ment, la m esentente. It displaces a body from its assigned place and allows subjects to come into being as political subjects, while illuminating the existing distribution of the sensible. This idea of emancipation foregrounds a politics of the possible, which



neither uncritically embraces nor romanticizes the power of change or agency. Rather, emancipation relates to the existing sociopolitical order and its powerful and exclusionary rationalities. As such, it is not opposed to but characterizes a mode of critique and thus articulates the interconnectedness between power and resistance. Second, conceptualizing emancipation as a mode of subjectivation offers a way to understand both the political subject and the subject of political emancipation in terms of becoming, of emerging. Emancipation delineates the process through which subjects appear as political subjects, as subjects of a wrong, of an exclusion. Emanci- pation is the institution of the part that has no part in the existing distribution of the sensible. As such it challenges beliefs in preconstituted emancipatory subjects or political groups, such as “proletarians” or “women.” Furthermore, this notion of sub- jectivation indicates an active dimension of emancipation. Emancipation does not allude to the idea of becoming liberated through a privileged emancipatory agent or some external force that excavates a “hidden political truth” (Ranci ere 1999, 85). Emancipation is a process andmore explicitlyone of political constitution. Third, when framed in this manner, emancipation describes a process that relies on

equality instead of hoping for equality in a future that has yet to come. Thus, equality


an assumption but not a goal of emancipation. Emancipation is “not a given” (Ran-


ere 1999, 33), but is the process through which the assumption of equality is verified.

Whereas the order of the police relies on misrepresentation and miscount, emancipa- tory politics come into existence through evoking the principle of equality. In this vein, emancipation designates an act, and equality is its condition. Equality generates emancipation and is therefore fundamental for both articulating and disrupting the distribution of the sensible. Taking equality as a prerequisite for emancipation also avoids reading politics into every form of interruption and disturbance.


It is because of the notion of subjectivation that Davis is surprised by Ranci ere’s dis- regard of affect. In his view, Ranci ere not only ignores the “powerful affective dimen- sion” of “the experience of non-recognition,” but also the “positive role” that “emotions can play in motivating the struggle for subjectivation” (Davis 2010, 97). Even though I agree with Davis regarding Ranci ere’s shortcomings in terms of affect,

I would argue that Ranci ere’s theory entails implicit references to affect. Whereas

Davis turns to Axel Honneth in order to broaden Ranci ere’s “undertheorized” (97) account of emotions, I propose rereading his theory through queer feminist debates on affect and emotions. At least two important insights from his theory allow for such a move: first, I show that the figure of the distribution of the sensible can also embrace affect and emotions; second, I argue that his theory of politics echoes the feminist critiques of modern Western dichotomies and particularly that of rationality/ emotionality. As I have demonstrated above, the distribution of the sensible describes a complex understanding of boundaries and divisions that relate to sense perception. By claiming

Brigitte Bargetz


the senses as the police’s powerful operation of partition, Ranci ere criticizes a mode of governing that creates a division of the senses, a division between what is consid- ered speech or voice and what is considered purely noise. Certainly, he articulates a form of sense perception that emphasizes a politics of seeing, speaking, and hearing. I suggest, however, that the governing of the senses must also be conceived in terms of emotions and affective bodily sensations. For this rereading of Ranci ere I turn to queer feminist research on affect, which calls attention to a feminist genealogy of emotion that began before the so-called affective turn and that situates affect and sensation within the social and the political (Lorde 1984; Gatens 1995; Sauer 1999; Ahmed 2000; Berlant 2000; Ahmed 2004; Cvetkovich 2012). Here, affect and sensa- tion serve as starting points for describing the political in affective terms and for interrogating, for instance, how capitalism, sexism, and/or racism are inscribed in the affective bodily practices of the everyday, or how affects become a site of community formation. Viewed through such a lens, the world does not appear to be divided only into those who speak and those who make noise. Rather, the distribution of the sen- sible also marks a distinction between those whose feelings constitute the existing distribution of the sensible and those whose feelings are excluded. Following from this, the distribution of the sensible may be read as an emotional partition, thereby deeming affect and emotions as a political demarcation line. As such, it reveals the “normative work of affect,” making visible the power of feeling scripts, of that which should or should not be felt, as well as that “one must emote properly” (Koivunen 2010, 22). Rereading Ranci ere in terms of affect and emotions seems even more compelling when recalling his concept of emancipatory politics. Without ever mentioning a poli- tics of emotions or feminist concerns, the feminist critique of modern liberal dichoto- mies, and explicitly of the emotionalityrationality binary, still resonates in Ranci ere’s theory of the political. For this reason, I would like to challenge Jackie Clarke’s critique that, for Ranci ere, emotions exist only within the logic of the police, but not within the logic of politics. Clarke criticizes that in Ranci ere’s politi- cal theory the “police order’s polarity between reason and sensibility remains opera- tive” (Clarke 2013, 23) and that he ultimately repeats what he is concerned with. “Recognizing that dominant groups try to dismiss the speech acts of the dominated by characterizing them as noise or emotional, Ranci ere is concerned to demonstrate what is rational in such utterances” (23). Unlike Clarke’s reading, I claim that Ran- ci ere problematizes such an understanding of Western liberal politics, particularly in his conceptualization of the rationality of disagreement. Invoking and emphasizing the rationality of the politics of interruption and, consequently, of emancipation, Ranci ere argues against a rationalism that is based on the opposition between rational interests and the “violence of the irrational” (Ranci ere 1999, 43). He conceives the political beyond this distinction by understanding it as a “false alternative,” one that requires a choice between the “enlightenment of rational communication and the murkiness of inherent violence or irreducible difference” (43). Hence, Ranci ere does not follow up with the modern Western dichotomy that understands the logic of the police as rational in opposition to the irrationality of the logic of politics. Rather, he



criticizes this understanding of politics and democracy and instead emphasizes the emancipatory mode of the politics of disagreement. Such a critique of liberaland thus of gendered, racialized, and classeddichotomies even appears in the figure of the emancipated spectator that Ranci ere considers to move beyond false oppositions such as “viewing/knowing, appearance/reality, activity/passivity” (Ranci ere 2009b, 12). These oppositions, he criticizes, are not “logical oppositions between clearly defined terms” but “define a distribution of the sensible, an a priori distribution of the position and capacities and incapacities attached to these positions” (12). His approach criticizes dichotomies as a mode of the distribution of the sensible, and thereby, from a feminist perspective, also alludes to a theory of affective politics. 3


So far I have explored Ranci ere’s understanding of emancipation and suggested think- ing along the lines of Ranci ere to go beyond him by rereading his approach in terms of a politics of emotion beyond cognition. In this last part, I am weaving both threads together, and develop the concept of the distribution of emotions that, I argue, can shed light on a queer feminist theory of affective politics. Although affect and emotion have long since been excluded from main- and malestream research and politics, the current turn to affect challenges these positions and raises questions such as: what would a theory of the political look like if it did not ignore affect and emo- tions? What is the relation between politics and affect? Is it one of paranoia or one of reparation? Can affective politics enhance emancipation or does it feed into a liberal politics of choice and a fantasy of post-politics? From a queer feminist perspec- tive, I would like to discuss in this final part three insights from thinking through the distribution of emotions. First, the distribution of emotions is a contribution I would like to make to what I have identified as an unsatisfactory and problematic opposition within queer feminist debates, which frame affective politics either in terms of reparation or paranoia. The distribution of emotions subscribes to neither a negative nor a positive conceptualiza- tion of affect, that is, to neither romanticizing nor delegitimizing affect and emotions. Here, it is necessary to recall Ranci ere’s crucial insight that emancipation does not occur outside the police order, but that it is both a mode of making the police order visible and of reconfiguring it. Emancipation is not a stage of liberation, but is always entwined in the police order, that is, in the existing distribution of the sensible. From this vantage point, the distribution of emotions means that affect and emotions are not necessarily emancipatory but that they may become a mode of emancipation and subjectivation. Emancipation occurs when a political dispute in which those who are excluded and marginalized institute themselves as political subjects. Conceiving the political order as the distribution of emotions means that acts of emancipationthat is, of challenging, interrupting, and reconfiguring the predominant orderbring to light how (and whose) affects and emotions are politically excluded, and how emo- tions are employed as a powerful line of demarcation. In this vein, emancipatory

Brigitte Bargetz


affective politics questions regimes that play rationality off against emotionality and scrutinize how sexism, classism, racism, ableism, and nationalism are (though differ- ently) affectively inscribed within such regimes. In this sense, affective emancipation does not establish truth claims by referring to “true feelings” but brings to light the emotional mechanisms of power, illustrating how exclusion is produced and how peo- ple are discouraged affectively. Yet as a mode of critique of emotional power regimes, emancipation does not remain within what Sedgwick criticizes as a paranoid frame. Instead it signifies an intervention and, consequently, change. Similarly, this notion of emancipation in terms of emotions does not fall prey to what Hemmings criticizes in view of a Black feminist and postcolonial critique, that is, that emphasizing affec- tive politics risks losing sight of the fact that some people are more suffused with affect than others. On the contrary, speaking of the distribution of emotions reveals that emotions are distributed differently in public and in politics. This also applies to contemporary politics, for instance in the context of 9/11, where a “differential distri- bution of public grieving” was observed regarding the loss of lives of non-US nation- als or illegalized workers (Butler 2009, 38) and where “queer losses” (Ahmed 2004, 157) have hardly or not at all been part of public mourning. Second, the distribution of emotions marks the concept of subjectivation as a mat- ter of emotions and thus links to queer feminist debates about the subject of feminist politics. Some feminist theorists dismiss the subject question because of its compli- cated connection to identity politics and bring forward alternative concepts, as for instance a freedom-centered feminism (Zerilli 2005). I want to argue for the distribu- tion of emotions that moves away from identity politics and conceptualizes affective feminist politics without taking identities as a starting point for emancipation. Speak- ing of the distribution of emotions accentuates emancipation as a possibility for criti- cizing and for interrupting the police’s disempowering and unequal mode of governing, which appears in at least a twofold way: in terms of differentially distribut- ing emotions but also in terms of governing through emotions. The distribution of emotions points to a political dispute where those who are affectively excluded and marginalized in one or both ways interrupt the dominant emotional order. For a queer feminist politics of affect, this means that such politics is not based on “identi- ties,” as for instance on “women” or “women’s emotions” or assumed “female emo- tional capacities,” such as empathy or love. Instead of assuming a pre-existing political subject, an affective politics of dissent and disagreement describes the process through which political subjects come into being, also affectively. Yet marking affect and emotions as a point of reference can still explicitly point to the importance of criticizing and challenging emotionally informed gender rela- tions and hierarchizations. A politics of emotions delineates an affective act of both “insubordination” (Spelman 1989, 266) and subjectivation of those who are emotion- ally excluded or marginalized, for instance, in terms of gender, sexuality, race, and class. This becomes visible when the heteronormative family is perceived as a marker for happiness, which not only produces the picture of the “unhappy queer” but also the assumption of a queer impossibility of ever becoming happy (Ahmed 2010). Fem- inist affective politics is not about a seemingly universal standpoint rooted in



presumed shared embodied experiences. It is a politics that gives attention to an ongoing process of simultaneously rendering explicit and destabilizing sexism and het- eronormativity and the ways in which they are affectively (re)produced. Such a poli- tics unfolds how emotions express both boundaries and belongings. Taking affective mechanisms of exclusion in place of identities as a starting point for a queer feminist politics also enables us to rethink coalitional politics. As a collec- tive mode of politics, subjectivation not only allows political subjects to come into being but also to fuelhowever briefly, even only for an instanta moment of affec- tive solidarity and relationality. In the distribution of emotions, affects are not some- thing that the subject possesses; they are distributed and circulate between bodies. As such, they can stick to some bodies more than to others (Ahmed 2004); but they can also become a mobilizing and relational force. Since affects emerge within the processes of political subjectivation within multiple moments of encounters, they mark an “in-between-ness,” as Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth put it (Seigworth and Gregg 2010, 2). Moreover, affective politics of subjectivation and emancipation articulate forms of collective affective dissent, thus taking as a starting point, for instance, anger (Lorde 1984), depression (Cvetkovich 2012), or “the experience of discomfort” (Hemmings 2012, 158) and consequently everyday ruptures, bodily affects, and sensations. Third, the distribution of emotions builds upon the idea of equality among people rather than promoting an emancipatory politics of affect that relies on truth claims. This, too, has insightful consequences for rethinking queer feminist politics. Affective emancipation is neither about negative or positive affects, as some criticize, nor about a politics of affective authenticity, as others problematize. Rejecting truth claims as a condition of emancipation, on the one hand, discards the idea of privileged emanci- patory agents such as “women”; on the other hand, it avoids a politics of emancipa- tion in the name of others. Affective politics of emancipation describes a situated political practice, a struggle, by embracing the power of disturbance that is based on the premise of equality. Taking equality as an assumption rather than as a goal of emancipation also challenges a liberal understanding of politics. The distribution of emotions is not about different forms of gender equality in terms of emotions that have to be reached in some unknown future. Instead, the assumption of equality indi- cates that emancipation can bring to light affective forms of gendered and sexual inequality. The distribution of emotions introduces a relation between politics and emotions that shows how affect and emotions are neither merely enabling nor simply an instru- ment of power relations. The distribution of emotions can take into account how emotions are involved in governing those who have no part, which has been (and still is) common (though differently) for devaluations and discriminations related explicitly to gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and/or race. Thinking through the distribution of emotions makes it possible to grasp the historically specific distribution of the sensible that privileges the emotions of certain people over those of others and, by doing so, it is also able to consider how politics are affectively translated. At the same time, the distribution of emotions conceives of emancipation as working

Brigitte Bargetz


through affect and emotions. I set out to show that emancipation is both based on affective dissent and inspired, or even driven, by a longing for transformation, that is, for a different distribution of the sensible. By casting the distribution of emotions as a way to rethink current queer feminist debates on affect I do not aim primarily to contribute to a theory of queer feminist affective politics but rather to a queer feminist theory of affective politics. This means that the distribution of emotions is not exclusively about gender and sexuality. Yet it alludes to a theory of the political that allows one to take into account how the pre- dominant political order is gendered and sexualized, but also how it is embedded in classism, racism, and/or nationalism. The distribution of emotions takes up important queer feminist challenges in terms of the political subject, knowledge production, power, critique, and emancipation and contributes to a queer feminist political theory by designating gendered and engendering traces as mechanisms for social criticism and politics.


I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their inspiring comments on an earlier

version of this paper, as well as Erika Doucette for her careful and insightful English proof- reading of the text.

1. Apart from quotations, I prefer to use the term subjectivation in this article. For

the difficult task of translating Ranci ere’s main concepts such as le partage, le sensible, la m esentente, or subjectivation, see also Panagia 2010; Chambers 2013.

2. For translating le partage, Chambers uses the double notion partition/distribution

(Chambers 2013). For the French term le sensible, Ranci ere’s original text Le partage du sensible has been translated as the “distribution of the sensible.” Chambers, on the con- trary, refers to the notion of the “sensitive” (Chambers 2013, 187) and Davis argues for the “sensory,” objecting that “the sensible” designates an unnecessary distinction between

sensation and the mediation of sensory experience, which is already expressed by le partage (Davis 2010, 17980).

3. Following from these two arguments that allow for a rereading of Ranci ere’s the-

ory in terms of affect and emotions, one could even conceive of his notion of the “sensi- ble” as a similar intervention. Davis mentions the “obvious confusion which rendering le sensible with ‘the sensible’ in English risks generating” (Davis 2010, 180). I wonder whether the French le sensible does not already suggest a double connotation of perception and sensory experience, thus displaying another move beyond the reason/feeling binary within Ranci ere’s approach.


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