Thursday, November 29, 2012

Affect is the Problem?

Thinking through the task of conducting some sort of slacktivism this week, I was a little chagrined to realize that I’ve been a casual slactivist since 2010. I have donated $1 monthly to Red Cross for 2 and half years: initially to assist in emergency relief for the earthquake in Haiti and then to continue to support Red Cross’s long-term aid plan there. What is striking about this is how I, in fact, forgot or to some extent was uncertain whether I was still making this monthly donation and upon checking my account activity, I noted that I am still a Red Cross donor.

This unrecognized and automated gesture of monthly support, a monetary investment and supposed indication of my continuing support, ostensibly demonstrates my “care” (for no specific issue, event, or group of people since my donation goes to Red Cross) but it functions that way without my awareness of it and without my conscious permission.

Considering this type of calendarized and self-activating philanthropy, it seems to suggest that network technologies  facilitate a type of anonymous (I don’t know exactly my $1 is aiding) and mechanized care giving, the type that Andrew pointed to in his lecture.  Slactivism operates seemingly in the moment (signing an online petition, liking a page, watching a video) but that quick, transitory action, can, through the same networked technology, be captured and extended into something that looks like sustained commitment to a cause.

The logic of humanitarianism that Fassin outlined  put so much of the course’s content in perspective. We’ve placed affects at the crux of what motivates individuals and groups (to pursue and sustain cruelly optimistic relationships, for example) and affective relations as what often constitutes those same individuals and groups. Similarly, in her first lecture Professor Chun noted the potential political potency of passion. It seems that what affect produces in regards to slactivism and networked technology is form of de-politicization. Fassin seems to indicate that affect is precisely what undermines effective humanitarianism, because instead of pursuing a political understanding of certain issues or social conflicts we engage in an emotional relationship with “victims.” Calls to act based on responses to “Misery” and “Trauma” displace attempts to solve or address the social situations that produce those conditions. How can affect be so constitutive, central, and mobilizing, but also, in this regard, fleeting?

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