Learning to Be Affected: Subjectivity, Sense, and Sensibility in Animal Rights Activism

In: Society & Animals
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  • 1 University of Gothenburg
  • 2 University of Gothenburg

Abstract

Becoming an animal rights activist is not just a process of identity change and re-socialization but also implies, as this article suggests, a “re-engineering” of affective cognitive repertoires and processes of “sensibilization” in relation to nonhuman animals. Activists thereby develop their mental responsiveness and awareness and refine their embodied sensitivity and capacity for sensing. The article proposes a theoretical perspective for understanding these processes. Empirically, this article examines the development of affective dispositions informing activists’ subjectivity and embodied sensibilities. It looks at the ways in which visceral, bodily, or affective responses are cultivated to reinforce activist commitments. First, the analysis identifies “micro-shocks” and “re-shocking” experiences as mechanisms for sustaining commitment. Second, “emphatic identification” and “embodied simulation” are highlighted as mechanisms for nurturing empathy towards animals. Finally, it identifies the role of “affective meat encounters” and the cultivation of disgust as mechanisms for nurturing sensibilities. The analysis is based on a case study of animal rights activists in Sweden.

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  • 1

    Following Blackman and Cromby (2007), affects can be seen as bodily needs, intensities, or impulses that originate outside of awareness but nevertheless structure activity; to the extent that we experience affects phenomenologically, we experience them as feelings. Feelings, thus, can be defined as the momentary experience of phenomenological states of the body-brain system (see also Cromby, 2007). Emotions, then, are relatively stable, culturally recognized configurations of affect and feeling, patterned body-brain responses normatively tied to local moral orders and to expectations of expression and activity.

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