Emotions and State Power: Towards the Emotional State

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This paper is concerned with the concept of the ‘emotional state’. Provisionally, this term should be understood to refer to the various ways in which the nation-state has been directly and indirectly involved in the construction and deconstruction of the emotional life of the polity; the degree to which it reflects (and constructs) the dominant emotional regime(s) and norms; and how these processes change through time. Central to this endeavour will be a critical consideration of the relationship between emotions and power within, what Pierre Bourdieu called, the ‘field of power’. In popular and media discourse there is increased concern about the ‘emotionalization’ of many aspects of social life, including contemporary politics. Critics point, for example, to the increased deployment of emotions and ‘emotional capital’, in both media and parliamentary arenas. This is often linked with the rise of ‘celebrity politicians’, and with the use of emotional appeals and rhetoric to build voter affinity and engagement. More occluded but perhaps more importantly, there are signs of such ‘emotionalizing’ processes in evidence in the construction and operation of many social and public policies, operating in and through various institutions, such as education, welfare and health. Aspects of these processes have been addressed academically within the wider context of the affective and emotional ‘turns’, both of which are, by now, well established. Yet, even within these sub-disciplines, the political sociology of emotions has remained somewhat under-explored. Here, while some topics, such as social movements, have been subject to long-standing analyses, other features of political life — such as the state (qua state) — have received relatively less critical and conceptual attention. Yet, the institutions listed are state institutions, the policies, state policies, and the question of whether and to what extent the ‘emotional state’ contributes to new, and insidious forms of emotional stratification and emotionally-based social inequality ('emotional status') in societies remains under-explored. In this paper I aim to review key approaches to the state and state theory from the perspective of the emotions. I will critically investigate the role and function of emotions and emotional management within these accounts, and ask to what extent different state regimes give rise to or attempt to foster different emotional regimes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted - 03 Oct 2017
EventOn the Emotional State: Workshop 2 - Lanyon Building/0G/074, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 02 Nov 201703 Nov 2017


WorkshopOn the Emotional State: Workshop 2
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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