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By 26/09/2022Janeiro 6th, 2023No Comments

By Maria Elena Indelicato

Affective interpretive community is a community that strives to interpret the affective significance that events of different scales have for individuals who are members of one or more groups. The concept was first introduced by the feminist philosopher Sue Campbell to describe the interpretive nature of feelings. As she argues in the book Interpreting the Personal, feelings can never be private but only personal. This is the case in that, in her view, it is only by expressing our feelings and having them interpreted with and by others that we can name them. Put it more simply, we can know how we feel only when we express our feelings to others. Others, thus, play a crucial role in determining the ways in which we understand the affective significance that certain events have for.

In Campbell’s explanation, our lives are made of events, small as a break-up or big as the outbreak of global pandemic but also an incident of racial profiling or the over-representation of Black and Indigenous men and women in prisons. These events are bound to not only make different categories of people feel differently but also require different communities of interpretation to fully grasp the affective significance that have for them. According to her, when we manage to establish interpretive communities that are sympathetic, their interpretive work would assist us with understanding the significance that certain events have for us.  Conversely, when we encounter interpretive communities that are hostile or oppressive, their interpretive work would distort the significance that certain events have for us.

The decision of erecting monuments and memorials to enslaved people, for instance, is an event that is likely to hold a different affective significance for the white and Black citizens of a nation. Similarly, white interpretive communities are likely to emerge to contest the significance that such event has for their Black counterparts, thus distort the interpretation that the latter have. In the case of far-right populism, online and in-presence debates seem to operate as events that establish interpretive communities that are sympathetic to the grievances of racially dominant groups.

Campbell wrote about feelings and interpretive communities before the so-called affective turn took place in the humanities and social sciences. In this­ regard, she did not distinguish between affect and feelings. However, as Sara Ahmed has argued, the aforesaid distinction runs the risk of concealing that even immediate reactions or bodily sensations to events are mediated by past encounters, or, more simply, paraphrasing Campbell, have a history of collective interpretation.

Related References

Ahmed, Sara. 2014. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.
Campbell, Sue. 1997. Interpreting the Personal: Expression and the Formation of Feeling. Cornell University Press.
Clough, Patricia Ticineto, and Jean Halley. 2007. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Duke University Press.

Cite this entry as:

Indelicato, Maria Elena. 2022. ‘Affective Interpretative Community’. In Populisms and Emotions Glossary, edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes. Available atário