Failing at Feelings. Historical Perspectives (1800-2000) Pascal Eitler / Uffa Jensen
Common to older attempts at constructing an emotionology and recent attempts to conceive of emotions as practices is their tendency to overemphasize successful emotions. While people often expect or desire to experience a particular emotion in a particular situation, sometimes the emotions just don’t appear or don’t last for very long. Emotions must be practiced, but these practices often fail. The conference inquires into the concrete historical and social circumstances that condition this failure to feel. Against this background, participants will also discuss the successful production of emotions, the role of certain institutions, discursive frames, competing norms, significant others, and divergent expectations, as well as the bearing of conflicts and situative factors. From this perspective, the failure to feel says something about the possibilities of successful feeling, and thus says something about the historicity of emotions. The conference will deal with four distinct fields where this failing at feelings can be observed, and will focus on European and North American history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: 1. Politics: In political history, emotions are often viewed as playing an important role in mobilization, even if this claim even if this claim is often made without sufficient evidence. But nations and their representatives have not always been successful at mobilizing desired feelings; “oppressed” people have not always yearned for revolution; and not all emotions have been capable of mobilizing target groups. 2. Religions: The view that religion is always founded in emotions is not uncommon, but it is not necessarily correct. Feelings for God, a church, or a cult have to be produced and channeled, and they don’t always materialize. Rituals in no way take hold of everyone, reverence can’t be triggered at the push of a button. 3. Genders and Families: Feelings are also not a given in our so-called private lives, not even in intimate relationships. Feelings are not always directed towards socially legitimate partners; established gender relations are never automatically expressed in feelings that match them; a family is not necessarily an emotional community. 4. Animals and Things: Feelings are not only directed towards other humans. They can also be directed towards animals and things, and in this regard too they can fail. What sort of emotions did people feel towards animals and things such as robots in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Which things or animals were the objects of failed attempts to feel? And which animals were viewed as being incapable of feeling?
The conference will be held on 15th and 16th December 2016 at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Travel and accomodation costs will be covered. The organizers welcome contributions with a strong historical impetus from all social and cultural sciences. Please send proposals (a short CV and sketch of max. two pages) by 20th August 2016 to: firstname.lastname@example.org