Keynote abstracts

Touch and Affect: ‘Touch biographies’ as a part of communal affective history in Finland

Taina Kinnunen

The presentation discusses affects and affectivities in and through touch. Touch is an everyday form of affective communication, both in its human only and human and non-human interactions. Touching comes to matter in various potential ways depending on the particular act of touching, and even as an ongoing act touch resonates with our pasts and orientates us towards the future alike. Touch makes our bodies more-than-one in a very concrete way, yet in affect and body research, touch has received little attention and is often taken for granted. However, touch underlines the materiality and trans-subjectivity of the body which affect theories call for. Touch powerfully constitutes both modal states of the affective body and fluidity, in intercorporeal bodily compositions.

The theoretical deliberation of the presentation is enriched with examples of the empirical material consisting of ‘touch biographies’ written by people of various backgrounds in the 2010s in Finland. In biographies, authors narrate their lives through the ways in which touch matters to them and what kind of memories they have from touch. The idea of gathering the biographies arose from the speaker’s wondering whether her own impressions of Finnish culture as touch evasive were widely shared. The ‘affective archive of touch biographies’ reveals the varied affective repertoires and registers that are enacted in, through and in retreat from touch. The biographies are examples of embodied-affective data which draw attention to diverse and multi-temporal ways of attuning to, registering and recognising the social as it happens. Touch is a part of affective practices which make sense in their specific historical context; material conditions, political circumstances and social structures become part of the carnal memory, deeply affecting communal affective processes.


Following the senses: Affect in ethnological studies of war and migration

Maja Povrzanović Frykman

The words affect, emotion, feeling and sentiment are often used interchangeably, and affect is often seen as an ontologically subjective and therefore ambiguous and difficult-to-define ‘something’. Although the definitions vary across social sciences and humanities, the common keywords when describing affects seem to be intensity, contingency and potentiality. While differentiating between affect and emotion, I argue that ethnographic research provides a fertile ground from which to capture the ambiguities of affective and emotive experience. For an ethnographer, that ‘ill-defined indefinite something’ is always related to particular people, places, situations and objects.

In order to pinpoint the relevance of affect, ethnologists need to ‘follow the senses’. By paraphrasing the famous Marcus’ methodological metaphor, I do not suggest the necessity of a multi-sited ethnography of affect, but of a clear focus on sensual, bodily experiences that is not static but diachronic, not isolated, but richly contextualised. By following the senses, ethnologists can contribute to an experience-centred understanding of the sensuous interfaces of people and their environment, that is so far underdeveloped both in research on war and migration. However, while the breaches of habitual practices in war appear as especially potent ‘experimental’ situations in which people become aware of the force of affect, it is important to also follow how memories of such situations change over time, and to understand why narratives of the same situation may employ different framings. On the other hand, while moments of sudden recognition of sensual familiarity in a foreign surrounding can contribute to the feeling of inclusion, their relative importance for a migrant’s overall wellbeing should be carefully examined against the backdrop of their life-history.

The lecture will revisit some of the topics related to my long-term research interests in war and migration, in order to display how attention to affect can open up for new ethnological insights.


Relationships and Cultural Emotions – Contexts, Things and Performances

Sarah Holst Kjær

To an established couple, everyday life and its number of subtle ways to relate can almost be forgotten. To a new couple, all situations and contexts mean possible ways to relate. Making sence of who we are in relation to each other is made possible through actual things. Hence ’cultural emotions’ point to meanings and possibilies of coupling which are intermediated through contexts.

Everyday life materiality becomes the relationship’s ’cultural third’ through which coupling is created. Performances, such as rituals and routines, relate and come into being through contexts and things. The home and leisure life not only frame, or stage the couple. These contexts also provide relationship its content and quality.

In my keynote speech, I will present the findings on how context, things, and couple-performances related to them, not only distabilises the widespread popular and scientific fantasy of the psycho-social relationship, but instead how the findings bring about new and surprising cultural categories through which the couples relate. Context-bound practices can be defined as ’local’ and often very far apart from ’text-book discourses’ on the couple: Established heteronorms still make room for particularity and local experience. The keynote speech will give examples on the dialogue between the local context-bound experience, new and suprising cultural categories, discourse and fantasy, aiming at defining the cultural emotions of romantic coupling.