Affective Spaces

Browse Items (43 total)

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    The Performativity of Faking (and Fakes) on Social Media

    Keynote speech by Guobin Yang, Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology, Annenberg School for Communication & Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania.


    Faking is performative. It grabs attention through techniques of dramatization. To understand why fake news, disinformation, and related faking behaviour have become a social media crisis, it is important to understand its logic of performativity. This talk examines this logic through an analysis of the politics and poetics of performativity on social media platforms in China and the US. Such an analysis has implications for understanding how to respond to today’s fake news crisis.

    The Fictionalization of People in Cyberspace: A Character Study

    HUM:Global Talk! by Guobin Yang, the Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology, the University of Pennsylvania.


    In contemporary digital culture, there is an intriguing phenomenon of fictionalizing real persons on social media. Entertainment stars and politicians are always fictionalized in some ways, but ordinary people may also become the object of fictionalization. As a result, they take on features of fictional characters. The circulation of such fictionalized characters on social media has many ramifications. This talk explores the multiple ways in which real persons are fictionalized on social media and how the literary concept of character may be useful for understanding the significance of this digital practice.

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    The reality TV sensation Sisters Who Make Waves has recently garnered public attention in China while sparking critical debate about middle-aged women. This article reexamines the politics of popular feminism by analyzing the visibility of tears within the show. Viewing tears as a signifying practice, this article investigates how they reveal the paradox of contemporary Chinese popular feminism to expose its ambivalence and contradictions. We suggest that tears signify popular feminism’s ambiguous stance toward patriarchal values, neoliberal principles, and state control. This study contends that the show’s popular feminism presents critical possibilities despite its inherent limitations, such as refraining from directly challenging patriarchal dominance and systematic gender inequalities. While tears reveal middle-aged women’s aspirations for self-realization, recognition, and empowerment, they also expose how neoliberalism emotionally exploits women through pursuing personal achievement. Tears enhance the visibility of women’s struggles and illuminate the formation of sisterhood within a male-dominated society. They also intertwine with state-promoted notions of sisterhood, which ultimately reinforce political allegiance to nationalism. Therefore, this study proposes that popular feminism in Sisters Who Make Waves acts as a double-edged sword. It reinforces hegemonic power while exposing its emotional disturbances. Such ambivalence creates a space for reimagining popular feminism.
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    China is saturated with complex emotions. Although emotions are constitutive in Chinese public culture, their implications are poorly understood. In this presentation, I aim to illuminate how and why emotions and affect open up new avenues for understanding the dynamics, struggles and tensions in contemporary Chinese society and politics. This discussion revolves around the analytical foundation for our new book, Affective Spaces: The Cultural Politics of Emotion in China (Edinburgh University Press, co-authored with Wei Shi). I will contextualize the concept of affective space, explaining why it provides a unique lens for exploring topics such as emotional mobilization, psychoanalysis of nationalism and nativism, workers’ embodied fear, digital affective publics, and the evolving state-society relations with distinct Chinese characteristics.

    Shih-Diing Liu is Professor of Communication and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Macau. His research has appeared in Positions: Asia Critique, Third World Quarterly, Social Movement Studies, and New Left Review. He is the author of The Politics of People: Protest Cultures in China (State University of New York Press, 2019).

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    China's massive economic restructuring in recent decades has generated alarming incidences of mental disorder affecting over one hundred million people. This timely book provides an anthropological analysis of mental health in China through an exploration of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychosocial practices, and the role of the State.

    The book offers a critical study of new characteristics and unique practices of Chinese psychology and cultural tradition, highlighting the embodied, holistic, heart-based approach to mental health. Drawing together voices from her own research and a broad range of theory, Jie Yang addresses the mental health of a diverse array of people, including members of China's elite, the middle class and underprivileged groups. She argues that the Chinese government aligns psychology with the imperatives and interests of state and market, mobilizing concepts of mental illness to resolve social, moral, economic, and political disorders while legitimating the continued rule of the party through psychological care and permissive empathy.

    This thoughtful analysis will appeal to those across the social sciences and humanities interested in well-being in China and the intersection of society, politics, culture, and mental health.
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    Since the mid-1990s, as China has downsized and privatized its state-owned enterprises, severe unemployment has created a new class of urban poor and widespread social and psychological disorders. In Unknotting the Heart, Jie Yang examines this understudied group of workers and their experiences of being laid off, "counseled," and then reoriented to the market economy. Using fieldwork from reemployment programs, community psychosocial work, and psychotherapy training sessions in Beijing between 2002 and 2013, Yang highlights the role of psychology in state-led interventions to alleviate the effects of mass unemployment. She pays particular attention to those programs that train laid-off workers in basic psychology and then reemploy them as informal "counselors" in their capacity as housemaids and taxi drivers. These laid-off workers are filling a niche market created by both economic restructuring and the shortage of professional counselors in China, helping the government to defuse intensified class tension and present itself as a nurturing and kindly power. In reality, Yang argues, this process creates both new political complicity and new conflicts, often along gender lines. Women are forced to use the moral virtues and work ethics valued under the former socialist system, as well as their experiences of overcoming depression and suffering, as resources for their new psychological care work. Yang focuses on how the emotions, potentials, and "hearts" of these women have become sites of regulation, market expansion, and political imagination.
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    This book explores emotions and their role in public life. It delves into the understanding of emotions within three traditions of public life studies, namely those of Jürgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt, and Richard Sennett. Building upon existing research, the book argues that emotions are not merely bodily and physiological reactions, but also ways of engaging with the world that can contribute to creating meaning, forming social relations, and constructing sociopolitical order. Drawing on this framework, it analyzes the role and impact of empathy, sympathy, anger, fear, jealousy, resentment, nostalgia, and narcissism in political and public life.
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    Professor of Journalism and Communication, Nanjing University

    Guangfeng Yuan studies emotion in public life, the politics of emotion in the age of digital media, and the therapeutic culture in contemporary China. He is the author of 《“情”的力量:公共生活中的情感政治》(Power of Emotion: the Politics of Emotion in Public Life, Jiangsu People’s Publishing House Co., Ltd., 2022).
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    The lockdown of Wuhan in 2020 was an extraordinary historical event in modern world history. One of its remarkable features was that residents in Wuhan documented their everyday experiences in diaries and shared their stories on social media. Guobin Yang’s book "The Wuhan Lockdown" recounts the drama of the lockdown by drawing on these diaries. Prioritizing the voices of ordinary people, "The Wuhan Lockdown" presents a galaxy of scenes and characters against broader social and historical contexts. To narrate a pandemic that was still unfolding poses multiple challenges. To have theory in a pandemic, or not to? How to have theory, or how not to? This talk introduces the book, discusses its narrative strategies, and reflects on the meaning of social science representation in times of a public health crisis and global geopolitical conflicts. 
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    2020年2月7日,武漢中心醫院眼科醫生李文亮因為在就診的過程中感染了新 冠肺炎而病逝。作為中國最初的新冠疫情「吹哨人」之一,李的離去引起了 中國網民的極大反響,而李生前的微博被稱為中國的「哭牆」,成了網民自我表 達的空間。本文以「哭牆」裡的留言為研究文本,探討在當下中國的社會語境 中,「哭牆」如何透過個體的生活經驗和情感表達為基礎的個體書寫,傳遞出 集體性的感覺結構,又如何形構出一個「情感公眾」。通過對於「哭牆」悼念 李文亮的文本分析,本文聚焦討論由網路串聯在一起的情感公眾,如何打開了 一個跨越私密個體故事的情感空間,展示出個體敘事的政治潛力,特別是個人 的政治性在日常生活的話語中如何呈現。一方面個體敘事干擾和消解了官方所 建構的宏大敘事,同時也生產與具有情感強度和政治潛能的「受傷主體」。

    On 2 February 2020, Li Wenliang , known for raising awareness of early COVID-19 inflections in Wuhan, died after contracting the virus while treating patients. As one of the few whistleblowing doctors who tried to warn about the coronavirus outbreak but was investigated for allegedly spreading rumors, his death has sparked widespread public sentiments in mainland China. His Weibo page was soon turned into a 'wailing wall' where netizens come to pour out their grief and other emotions. This article takes the messages posted on Li's last entry as the focus of analysis, investigating the way such emotionally charged private narratives - which are based on the lived experiences of the individual - have brought into being a distinct structure of feeling and formulated affective publics" in China. Through an analysis of the collective mourning of Li, this article focuses on the way the affective publics open up an affective space of private storytelling and render the personal political through daily-life narratives. This is manifested in the private narrative's disturbance and dissolution of official grand narratives and the formulation of the "injured subject" marked by political intensity and potentials." 
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    Since the recent state crackdown on effeminate stars labeled as niangpao (sissy pants), “insufficient” masculinity has once again become a focus of political controversy in China. Among these stars, Zhou Shen, a male pop singer known for his feminized voice and image, continues to enjoy immense popularity and perform in official programs. His growing fame and tolerance by the state call into question his cultural-political strategy. Conceptualizing Zhou’s androgynous performance as a political effect of a series of co-optation, compromises and negotiations, this essay offers a contextualized reading of the complex ways in which competing and contradictory influences shape his expression. In tracing the practices that configure his stardom, we investigate how Zhou’s androgyny paradoxically reaffirms and unsettles hegemonic norms in non-antagonistic ways. We describe how his engagement with Xi Jinping’s China Dream creates an ambivalent space for negotiating established norms. We argue that Zhou’s phenomenal success rests with the fusion of contradictory elements into his performances and his ability to cut across binary classifications. This process has nurtured a politics of ambivalence marked by ambiguity, confusion and contingency. It also sheds light on the limit and possibility of doing gender politics in an increasingly illiberal setting.
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    This article examines China’s emotional governance by analysing the emotional politics behind the wide circulation of the Fang Fang diaries during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak. By highlighting the flexible and creative reorientation of online emotions in the Chinese state’s governance approach, the article investigates how the diaries’ reverberation of negative feelings – such as grief and indignation – engendered contentious affective publics and amounted to a moment of dissent. The article also explores how the state used multi-layered strategies to demobilise and reorient public sentiment and opinion into regime-supportive nationalism. In doing so, the article offers a more nuanced understanding of state–society relations, online expression and authoritarian resilience in China than interpretations that emphasise suppression and censorship.
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    The TV drama A Love for Dilemma (2021) has sparked widespread debates on motherhood and gender in China. This article explores the intricacy of the show’s representation of “bad mother.” While conventional perspectives often view motherhood as a realm of private intimacy, insufficient attention has been given to the distinctiveness of Chinese-style motherhood and its intersection with family, neoliberalism, and state politics. This article addresses the importance of analyzing the televisual representation of motherhood to gain insight into how the interplay between patriarchy, the market and the state configures maternal subjectivity, particularly under the leadership of Xi Jinping. By examining the emotional meaning of motherhood produced by the TV series, this study unveils the inherent contradiction of mother love as a site of political investment. It argues that the ambivalence surrounding mother love stems from its entanglement with patriarchal expectations, the burdens of emotional labor, and the state’s vested interests.
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    Drawing on qualitative data collected from men who have sex with men living with HIV in Fujian and Sichuan provinces in southeast and southwest China, respectively, this study aims to understand their lived experiences in the context of social norms, institutions and roles. We argue that informants encountered bio- graphical disruption as a result of their diagnosed infection. They then painfully experienced different forms of social death on the one hand, while on the other, some also exerted agency/auton- omy by strategically fighting for their rights and interests in both private and public domains. By examining these lived experiences, this study discusses the biological citizenship of the respondents so as to deepen understanding of embodied life experiences and trajectories.

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