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Affects of Class

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Organizer: Mathies G. Aarhus

Co-Organizer: Taylor Johnston

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Class is a material relationship, but also a felt, embodied experience. George Orwell was perhaps the first to recognize its deeply phenomenological nature when he claimed that “the real secret of class distinctions in the West … is summed up in four frightful words … ‘The lower classes smell.’” To fully describe the operations of class power and the disgust and fear that often motivate it, Orwell decided to explore his own body’s affective responses to the lower classes by living in squalor for various periods of his life. But today, people also feel class distinctions immediately on their skin in a range of more commonplace, everyday situations – from buying artisanal coffee to seeing homeless people on the street – and in affects as diverse as envy, pity, shame, resentment, anger, and repulsion. Within the field of class studies, there is a growing awareness of the unequal distribution of affect, as well as the utility of certain feelings for creating class power. Rising levels of anxiety and precarity in neoliberalism, for instance, have been said to obstruct working-class solidarity, thereby consolidating the power of the capitalist class by way of affect. While on the one hand, unpleasant affects of class (anxiety, fear, envy, shame, anger, disgust) consolidate social distinctions, on the other, they express a dissatisfaction with the way things are. As the class theorist Beverley Skeggs has offered, “it is by the emotions of affect that class struggle is being expressed, although not often heard”. This panel will interrogate concepts of both the role that affect plays in class formation and the problematics of studying class affect as a non-discursive, at times suppressed form of knowledge. If class affect is difficult to detect and describe, how should we go about studying it? What sort of methodology would recognize this more hidden area of class experience that is so rarely admitted, but that we nevertheless feel in our everyday experiences? Presentations might address the following topics: • Methods for studying class affect • The history of class emotions • Comparing class affect from different regions • Snobbery and cultural capital • Precarity and affects of the precariat • Deindustrialization and post-fordist affect • Unemployment and the end of work • Solidarity as affect • Intersections between class affect and gender • Race-class affects • Whiteness and affect • Ideology and class affect • Popular culture and media • Commonplace or everyday affect

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