Engineering Affect

Street Politics and Microfoundations of Governance

In: Middle East Law and Governance
Michelle D. Weitzel New School for Social Research,

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Affect was an essential component of the Arab uprisings, and it remains an important medium for shaping everyday politics in the Middle East and beyond. Yet while affect is beginning to be conceived as integral to studies of social movements, endeavors to control individual and collective affect in the praxis of statecraft remain understudied—despite robust evidence that affect and emotion are intimately entwined with political behavior and decision-making on a wide range of issues spanning voter preference to foreign policy. This article examines how such control takes effect, situating the sensory body as a bridge and key site of interaction and contestation for diverse projects that seek to influence behavioral outcomes via the manipulation of public space. From among the bodily senses, it singles out the auditory realm as a particularly potent generator of affect and examines the entanglement of sound, hearing, and power to foreground ways the sensory body is routinely engaged in state projects. Drawing on examples from the protests that ricocheted across the Middle East from 2010–2012, and framing these with historical antecedents from original archival work, this article bridges phenomenological experience and political outcomes to reveal how sensory inputs such as sound, wielded by elite and subaltern actors alike, are engineered for political effect. In so doing, I argue that a necessary prerequisite for grasping the role of affect and emotion in politics is a better understanding of technologies and modalities of control that go into the structuring of the sensory environment.

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