Affect, Emotion and Fieldwork

While performing my weekly walk, I brainstormed for my presentation(with becky) on the Affective turn. I want to explore affect and emotion in field work, while asking people to uncomfortably step out of their comfort zones, which in turn expands the boundaries of said zones.

Actors, yes, of the performing kind (but how could this related to the ANT kind–actors and actants?). Let us begin, “the actors perform emotional gymnastics” (Boal, 2003, p. 222).

First, get into pairs. (We will work at various intimacy levels, meaning pairs, but also in the context of a larger group)

Explore the following phrase with your partner in the context of fieldwork:

“’Getting into someone else’s skin’…a piece of linguistic artifice” (Boal 2003, p. 220).

We are going to use memory, imagination, and performance to do some ‘emotional field work’ about field work. Part of these exercises will be based in your personal life experiences explicitly and some more abstractly in order to explore emotional dynamisms. Keep in mind we have to make assumptions through some of these exercises—pay attention here—for the remainder of this presentation, let assumption=imagination.

Breaking the Oppression (is this a metaphor for the ivory tower?…maybe, but it is definitely an exercise  that beckons those safe(er) spaces we visited last week AND a little imagination to rotate along those positional intersections of identity we discussed). ‘

Let us carry on in the spirit of exploration and extreme generosity. We can sit at the table together, each attempting to keep our cynicism at bay…

1[1]. Remember a moment in your life when you were the object of a powerful oppression (any kind such as systemic, empirically experienced etc…).

2. One partner needs to volunteer to tell the other(s) detailed memories of this event (reflect on or try to be aware of your emotions as you tell the story. Listeners, be aware of your emotions as you listen…in what ways are they performed or affect-ed?).

3. All partners should quickly perform this as a scene with each other. The storyteller will play h/self as the object of oppression and the other(s) will play the oppressor.

4. Repeat step three, but this time perform the scene with the object of oppression refusing the oppression. How does this change the protagonist’s and the antagonist’s emotions and performances of their emotions?

5. Perform the scene one last time, but now the actors switch roles. The protagonist will become the antagonist. What does it feel like to become your own oppressor? What does it feel like to represent the protagonist from only understanding their experience through their story? How do emotions play a similar or different role in the last performance?

“In these exercises the actor who breaks the oppression always has the best part, as we are on his side: he is the victim and not the cause, of this violence. That is why in the last phase of the exercise we ask the actor to remember a moment in his life when he acted not as oppressed but as oppressor.” (Boal, 2003, p.222).

Seeing that our positionality is ever-changing, how is the exercise we did problematic?

Do oppressors and oppressed fit so neatly into those linguistic categories?

Can we oppress and be oppressed simultaneously?

How does this idea operate within the practice of fieldwork?

How do affect and emotion operate within your personal fieldwork?


[1] The next steps I adapted for this class from Boal’s (2003) “Breaking the Oppression” game (p.220-223). Boal, A. (2002). Games for actors and non-actors. Routledge.

This class exercise resulted in furthering my interest into affect and emotion in other fields as outlined in the following paper:

Affect, Emotion and Technology

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