Thursday, 8 July 2010

Affected by the affective turn

I was recently at the at the PhD course run by the Doctoral School of Organisational Learning (DOCSOL) in Denmark where the topic of the course was ‘The affective turn. An invitation to new analytical engagements?’.

The course teachers were:

  • Christian Borch, Associate professor, PhD, Department of Leadership, Politics, and Philosophies, CBS
  • Brian Massumi, Professor, University of Montreal, Department of Communication Studies
  • Patricia Clough, Professor of Sociology, Women´s Studies, and Intercultural Studies at Queens College
  • Dorthe Staunæs, Associate professor, PhD, Department of Learning, DPU/University of Aarhus

The course was started with the presentation of Christian Borch and the use of concept of spheres and atmospheres in research, especially as they relate to the affective domain. Next day Patricia Clough was using a multimodal presentation style in exploring the affective as related to post-humanism and pre-subjective mechanic assemblages. The presentation was highly debated as it included the projection of an art-piece with disturbing images representing the state of the world and the debate about capitalism. Dorothea Staunaes discussed new form of ‘psy leadership’ where the affective domain was employed in the workplace. And the event was closed with a lecture by Brian Masumi who took a philosophical turn to discussing the concept of affect.

However, the morning lectures were only a part of the course. What was most interesting was the work with other people who came with diverse projects. The notion of organisation was understood in a wider sense, so the projects ranged from workplace learning, over project regarding educational institutions to gender and queer studies. The format of the whole course was very thought provoking. After the morning lectures (all of which were preceded by readings sent in advance) we had lunch and ‘walks and talks’ where we walked on the coast of Denmark, looking at the bridge to Sweden and tried to understand concepts presented in the morning. Only afterwards we would reconvene in the plenary room and discuss it fully with the presenter.

After that we worked in groups where we tried to discuss our PhD projects and try to use the concepts discussed on our data. These proved to be very interesting and useful. What was also striking was the variety of data sets we brought: newspaper articles, videos, photos made by employees, narratives in the form of storytelling and codes from analysis. This really pushed us to consider our project and analysis process from different angles.

Another form of learning was evening ‘reflection on a laptop’ where we would think about the day and what we take with us. Individual reflection is a general practice on such events but the insistence of doing them on a laptop made a difference as then the thoughts would be captured and could be accessed later on. In addition to these planned events there were of course informal discussion with the participants, way into the night about surprisingly serious topics such as questioning the value of research as a phenomenon. Moreover, we had an optional workshop with Professor Patricia Clough about innovative ways for presenting ideas: where we included dance, music, rhythm and un-standardised text experiments as forms of expressing academic ideas. This really challenged the boundary between my artistic and academic self that I was socialised into accepting (the format and canonical style of journal publications is sometimes really limiting).

Overall the whole event really made me think, in a kind of a roundabout way. I came with a very naive understanding of the affective domain as the world of emotions, only to find out that there are many more philosophical, sociological and psychological aspects to it that have relevance on the depth with which I do research in my project ‘Learning from Incidents’. I was really challenged to look on my work as a researcher more holistically and more in-depth. No matter how focused we are on the specific and practical impact of our study, as researchers, we should still seek deeper understanding by having different perspectives, crossing between different fields, ever crossing boundaries.