Depressed? It Might Be Anthropological

If all this talk of anthropologists either ‘collaborating with’ or ‘consulting for’ the military has got you down, you’re not alone. But there are places you can go, like these two websites:

livecrazy.jpgfeeltank.jpg is the website for the ‘Live Crazy Network,’ a nonprofit organization assembling the creative work of people who think about mood in contemporary social life. It was founded by anthropologist Emily Martin, whose new book is called Bipolar Expeditions. Martin conducted years of ethnographic work in the US on the growing science and industry of mood (and putative disorders thereof).

According to Wikipedia, Feel Tank Chicago is “a group composed of activists, artists, and academics that engages both in critical research and political activism.” The group stages happenings of various kinds that are tinged with feeling as well as with political critique, suggesting that affect could itself comprise such a critique. I connect the group in my own mental map of intellectual constellations with a set of interests that concern many scholars at the University of Chicago, in particular their interest in the way in which new publics emerge through and as forms of affect.

I think recent interest in mood or affect is not unconnected to other recent critiques of the platonic virtualism that sometimes characterizes cultural analysis in either a structuralist or a hermeneutic mode. For example, very powerful work has been attending to the materiality of meaningful practice (see especially the work of Webb Keane), building on the insight that meaning must take material form of some kind and so actually looking at that form lends greater precision and power to our understanding of how meaning happens. I think the turn toward affect performs a similar move as a kind of critique of pure semiology, insofar as it wishes to make visible the constitutive ’emotional’ or ‘irrational’ strands that are always a part of cultural worlds.

One thought on “Depressed? It Might Be Anthropological

  1. I am the “webmaster” of Emily Martin’s site, and I just wanted to say thanks for blogging it. It be remarked that the site is brand new and still somewhat in the making. So, while all visits and contributions to the site are very welcome, please don’t be too critical with it just yet, neither in terms of design, nor in terms of content. Thank you very much!


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