Given Thrift’s attempt to link biology and affect (which I think he did successfully, for the most part), I found the concept of affective contagion to be perhaps the most interesting component of his chapter. Taking from Tarde, Thrift proposes viewing the flows between bodies and spaces that (re)create affect. He extends this idea further, though, by noting that what travels between bodies can often be dangerous or diseased – thus the idea of “contagion.”
It is a resistance to contagion that makes bodies so susceptible to the affective cycles of imitation and suggestion that have come to define politics. As Thrift writes, “reluctance…has a wider political significance since it is these points of unconscious volition…which are so often crucial in influencing the course of politics” (242). Thus, biological predisposition to disease has become transformed into political susceptibility, all through the workings of affect.
Thrift’s argument began to fall flat when he actually talked about politics, because he did not really seem to engage with this idea of affective contagion as much as I wish he might have. The biological component of his argument, which he had spent so long setting up, seemed to largely go away. I wonder if this is where Coleman’s discussion of Anonymous could come in. The work of Anonymous also spreads like contagion – traveling without prescribed paths, growing and mutating, etc. – except that Anonymous seems to harness this idea of vulnerability for their own political goals. They hope that their affective pleas will hit vulnerable targets, and they make themselves vulnerable so that if an “op” should come their way, its affective and political resonances may take root. Are “lulz” really a positive affective register, one that enact political change? Or does there need to be something more than “lulz” behind the work of Anonymous to truly address politics?