The first happy child in English literature?

By Melissa Raine, Associate Investigator, University of Melbourne.

The Friar dancing in the brambles while Jack Pipes Historie van de jongen geheeten Jacke, printed by Michiel Hillen van Hoochstraten Antwerp, 1528, p.1. (From the digitale bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse letteren, This woodcut also appears in the Wynkyn de Worde English edition of the poem, c.1510.

The Friar dancing in the brambles while Jack Pipes Historie van de jongen geheeten Jacke, printed by Michiel Hillen van Hoochstraten Antwerp, 1528, p.1.
(From the digitale bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse letteren,
This woodcut also appears in the Wynkyn de Worde English edition of the poem, c.1510.

Children’s Book Week, which celebrates contemporary literature designed specifically for young people, prompted me to reflect on children and books from medieval England. Precious little survives of children’s own responses to reading – fragments of verse that they might have uttered, marginal remarks in schoolroom texts – and there is not even certainty over which stories were intended for children. The mere appearance of a child, especially a child significant enough to speak for him or herself, by no means automatically suggests an audience of children. The dream vision poem Pearl, where a dead girl offers a sophisticated consolation to the grieving narrator (probably her father), could hardly be thought of as a “children’s” text. Nor is the gruesomely murdered child of Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale, who sings after his own death until justice is served, a promising candidate.

The “proper lad” hero of Jack and His Stepdame fits much more closely with modern expectations of a capable, mischievous and youthful protagonist with whom children could potentially identify. This narrative emerged in the last decades of the fifteenth-century and continued to attract enormous popularity for several hundred years, known in printed form as The Friar and Boy. Some evidence suggests that it appealed to children.

Here is the story:

Jack’s stepmother attempts to starve him while persuading his father, the head of household, to send him away. The father compromises by sending Jack out into the fields during the day to guard his animals. While outdoors, Jack complies with a request for food by a passing old man, who rewards him by granting three wishes: a bow and arrow that never misses; a pipe which causes anything living to dance uncontrollably; and, a stepmother who loudly farts when she looks at Jack with anger.

That night, when his father offers him food, his stepmother’s ire is raised and she is humiliated in front of the household. She exhorts a Friar to beat Jack when he returns to the fields, but the boy lures him into the brambles to collect a bird shot down by his bow and arrow. Jack plays the pipe, causing the Friar to injure himself extensively while dancing uncontrollably.

The distressed Friar returns to the house, where Jack’s father, fearing the devil’s involvement, demands that the boy play his pipe. The household and the village beyond dance uncontrollably, but the father is delighted by the merry music, and bestows his approval on his son.

Jack’s role in the Friar’s ordeal produces one of the most memorable lines of the poem:

Ever the boye blewe and lewh amonge.
How the frere lepe and wronge!

[The boy constantly blew and laughed at the same time.
How the friar leapt and wrung his hands!]

The image of a child transported by sheer joy is powerfully evoked by the laughter that interrupts, and dissolves into, the blowing into the pipe: it is not difficult to imagine the sound of music, a tune bent and broken, unexpectedly loud and soft in turns, as merriment overcomes Jack’s very breath – we can virtually feel his happiness through these implied sounds. This is one of the most powerful descriptions of a child’s own experience of happiness that survives in Middle English.

That exuberance remains arresting for a modern audience, and much of the narrative’s humour will make sense to modern readers; however, there is also a great deal in this text that marks its medieval sensibility. The stepmother’s humiliation is brutal and decisive; the Friar’s more protracted and sadistic. To many modern readers, these episodes will seem gratuitously cruel. Beyond our altered cultural standards around violence and misogyny, the “reason” that Jack’s mischief is applauded is simple: he is his father’s son. His father, it is implied, is a prudent man, successful in his station, whose place in the world Jack will one day inherit. Jack lives up to his birthright through his resourcefulness (importantly, he acts, rather than complains), and by punishing interference with what is rightfully his, proffered by a woman and a religious figure. The stepmother’s machinations damage the father’s honour “from the inside”, and the Friar has no place in the productivity of the household over which the father presides. Jack’s childish antics are celebrated because he has his father’s interests at heart. He is not a rebel, or a delinquent, but a lad who knows and accepts his place in the existing order, who indeed upholds that order, even when ostensibly engaging in subversive boyish amusement. This is a story for parents as much as children.

In this early example of a child protagonist, we see how Jack’s status as a child hero is intimately related to broader cultural values. As such, Jack and His Stepdame offers an opportunity for reflection on how far we have come, as a culture, in addressing children as children.

The text of Jack and His Stepdame is available at

A modern translation of the poem can be found in Medieval Comic Tales, ed. Derek Brewer (New York: D.S. Brewer, 1996). 

By Kimberley Reynolds, Professor of Children’s Literature, Newcastle University UK, & CHE Senior Honorary Research Fellow

To mark Children’s Book Week I was asked to think about how the voices of children from different eras can be identified in literary and archival materials. This request came about because for the last 18 months I’ve been working with colleagues from CHE on a collection of essays about emotional responses to the death of children in the early modern period. There is quite a lot of evidence about how adults responded to child death, but as so often is the case, the voices of children themselves are hard to locate. That is one reason why I was excited to discover, while working on an entirely different project, a publication put together by pupils from Britain’s public schools system in the 1930s (perversely, in the UK ‘public’ actually means ‘private’). The story of this short-lived journal is worth briefly reprising briefly before looking at a few examples of how it gives us access to the lost voices of children and young people from this turbulent decade of the last century.

Writing and rebellion

Cover of ‘Out of Bonds’ Volume 1, 1934.

One morning in the early summer of 1934, a hand-picked group of public school pupils received an anonymously produced circular announcing the birth of an anti-establishment magazine written by pupils for pupils. The circular invited its readers to become involved with this new publication which was to be called Out of Bounds: Public Schools’ Journal Against Fascism, Militarism and Reaction. Its aim was to introduce pupils in Britain’s elite public schools to left-wing political ideas and to make them relevant by linking them to what its editors identified as significant forces of militarism and oppression in the public school system: the Officers’ Training Corps (known as the OTC), fagging and corporal punishment. Their aspirations went beyond reforming schools, however. As the second editorial explains, Out of Bounds was intended to be a vehicle for reforming society by changing a key mechanism for reproducing the status quo. The forces of conservatism, or what are called reactionaries in Out of Bounds, it claims, ‘have long regarded Public Schools as their historic stronghold…. It is our job to attack them in their stronghold. But we must go further than this…. We attack … the vast machinery of propaganda which forms the basis of Public Schools and makes them so useful to the preservation of a vicious and obsolete form of society…. ‘

Esmond and Giles Romilly. Photo by Howard Coster, 1934. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Esmond and Giles Romilly. Photo by Howard Coster, 1934. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Though they may sound mature, these are the voices of teenagers, in this case Giles and Esmond Romilly, nephews of Winston Churchill and pupils at Wellington College. The Romilly brothers headed an editorial board made up of pupils from across the public school sector. Under their guidance four numbers of the journal were produced and sold in 23 public schools, despite the fact that it was immediately banned in the majority of such schools. In fact, the ban and an article in the right-wing Daily Mail which identified contributors to Out of Bounds as a ‘red menace’ in Britain’s public schools probably stimulated sales: the initial print run of 1,000 rose to 3,000 for the second number.

In terms of children’s reading and the history of emotions, Out of Bounds is interesting for the way it explores youthful passions, concerns and ambitions, often in relation to reading. The dependence on reading in this pre-television era is clear throughout the journal which, of course, was itself meant to be read. The Romilly brothers had educated themselves in the concerns of the Left through reading, and Out of Bounds features lengthy book reviews of the kinds of materials they recommended as well as advertisements and offers from radical bookshops. There were few children’s books on suitable subjects so many of the books recommended are for a general audience. When left-wing children’s books were available they were reviewed; Geoffrey Trease’s 1934 Bows Against the Barons, for instance, is ‘wholeheartedly’ recommended as ‘an enthralling study of England in the Middle Ages that shows ‘that every uprising has an economic cause’.

Two page spread from ‘Out of Bounds.’

Contributions to Out of Bounds frequently find young people railing against war and fascism. One letter to the editors gives a detailed account of attending the huge Blackshirt rally at Olympia in 1934. The correspondent explains that though he had gone out of curiosity, not yet being sure what the British Union of Fascists stood for, the event turned him firmly against fascism after he was brutally attacked by the Blackshirts in the melee that broke up the rally. Other contributions urge young people to turn away from militarism and join the peace movement. Even more heartfelt are the discussions of sex in public schools. In a feature called ‘Morning Glory (Sex in Public Schools)’, Giles Romilly complains mightily about the lack of sex education in public schools.   The piece boldly discusses masturbation, boys’ passions for each other, lewd talk, and the efforts of masters to control though not to explain sexual desire in adolescent boys. Girls too wrote about the way single sex education affected behaviour. Phyllis Baker of Ashford High School contributed an article on the unhealthy worship by girls of some female teachers (‘she must be young, fairly short, and essentially “sporty”; she must have fair hair, a good figure, shapely legs, and a very short gym tunic’). The article ends with the observation, ‘what a lot of anguish would be saved by educating the two sexes together’.

Despite its popularity, Out of Bounds was not solvent. Once it became known that the editors had outstanding debts it is likely that printers refused to take on the journal, but other factors contributed to its short life. By the time the fourth and last number appeared, Esmond was in a remand centre because his mother claimed he was out of control. This coincided with the outbreak of civil war in Spain, an event that saw many of those who had been passionate in their opposition to war become equally determined that fascism needed to be defeated. On his release Esmond joined an international brigade. Giles too went to Spain but as a journalist. Out of Bounds was gone, but that does not mean it was ephemeral. Producing the magazine was a defining moment for both its contributors and its readers. In the course of writing articles, reviewing books, advertising and reporting on peace rallies, and devising ways to circulate their magazine, they helped call to into being an idea of youth as resistant to authority. Many went on to become active members of left-wing political parties and continued to work to overthrowing the conservative forces that had previously shaped their lives. Their youthful voices are preserved in the pages of Out of Bounds and in the journal it is clear that reading and writing together enabled this group of young people to fashion themselves in ways that arguably changed British society for ever and helped bring the nascent welfare state into being.

Why Science Needs “Passion”

By Louis C. Charland, Partner Investigator
Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions Professor, Departments of Philosophy and Psychiatry & School of Health Studies Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.Louis Charland

In this blog, I briefly share some results of research undertaken in my role as Partner Investigator with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, based at The University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia. In honor of National Science Week in Australia, I argue that science needs “passion” and that for this we must turn to the history of emotions.

The term and concept “passion” no longer figures in contemporary scientific efforts to understand emotion or other related phenomena in the affective domain. “Emotion” now is the keyword and paradigm theoretical posit of the affective sciences, although “feeling,” “mood,” and “affect” also play a significant role. The verdict appears to be that “passion” is now a matter of historical interest only, and can otherwise be ignored, although admittedly, the term is sometimes still employed in everyday discourse and some academic research, to refer to very intense and powerful emotional states. Note that even the history of “passion” now falls under the rubric of “emotion.” For example, this blog entry is meant to be a contribution to the dissemination efforts of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for the History of Emotions. Again, the keyword here is “emotion,” even though the topic is “passion.”

In general, situating the historical study of “passion” under the general rubric of “emotion” does not pose major problems. In many cases, older usages of the term “passion” can, with appropriate provisions, even be rendered using the term “emotion,” a common practice. However, there is at least one particular context where this practice proves to be misleading. This is the case where both the terms “passion” and “emotion” and their associated concepts are intended as distinct, but mutually complementary, posits in an overall theory of the affective domain. There are in fact several pivotal milestones in the history of affective terms and concepts where this occurs. In such cases, rendering the term “passion” as “emotion” is misleading. The reason is that it obscures an important lexical and conceptual distinction in the original texts under study. Yet, there are cases where “passion” has been uncritically rendered as “emotion” in the study of such texts. As a result, the importance of the distinction is lost on readers, especially when the original texts are not present or easily available. This makes it appear as if we can dispense with “passion” in the translation and interpretation of such texts – as if “emotion” can do all the work that “passion” used to do. But this is not so.

The primary thesis of this short essay is that this relegation of “passion” to the proverbial ‘dustbin’ of history represents an important loss, not only for the history of “emotion,” but also for contemporary science; in particular, scientific efforts to explain the nature of “emotion” and other related phenomena in the affective domain. In particular, this omission leaves us without adequate conceptual resources to properly describe and explain the nature and organization of long term affective states and processes. We must therefore reinstate “passion” into science. No doubt, this is a call for reform on a grand scale. It is also a telling lesson on the importance of historical studies for present day science, philosophy, and even public life and our common sense understanding of “emotion”.

All of this, of course, requires stipulating an appropriate sense of “passion,” which admittedly is a term with a long and variegated history of conceptual change. As we shall see, though it is certainly complex, the history of “passion” and its relation to “emotion” is still vibrant and full of promise for those who wish to study it. This is no ‘dustbin.’ On the contrary, it is an historical domain with important lessons for how we should understand the function and limitations of our current term “emotion.”

In the sense intended here, “passions” are complex long term affective states and processes that differ from “emotions,” which are affective states and processes of shorter duration and lesser complexity. Moreover, properly understood, passions often serve to organize emotions and so must therefore be carefully distinguished from these. So, for example, think of jealousy over time, perhaps months or years. The jealous individual in the throes of such a passion will respond with very specific emotions – suspicion, anger, rage, and revenge, or maybe forgiveness – during the course of that passion. They will also experience very specific associated feelings – despair, resentment, and maybe, we hope, eventually relief. Eliminate the passion, and you eliminate the specific, rule-governed, course of emotional dispositions and responses that typically accompany and issue from that passion. In contrast, an individual who is not in the throes of such a passion will not respond, or be disposed to respond, in the same way as the person who is.

Cover of 'From Passions to Emotions' by Thomas Dixon.

Cover of ‘From Passions to Emotions’ by Thomas Dixon.

Now for some history. Before we go any further, it is important to be reminded of the fact – and it is an historical fact – that the term “emotion” is a relatively recent arrival on the contemporary philosophical and scientific stage. Prior to the arrival of “emotion,” “passion” and its various lexical cognates in various languages was the primary term of art in matters that concerned the affective domain. Since its emergence, both the denotation and connotations of the term “emotion” have changed dramatically, although the term itself, as a lexical item, has remained mostly the same. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was common to refer to ‘emotions of the pulse’, or ‘emotions of the clouds’, a physical usage that has changed as the term has acquired more psychological connotations. Historian Thomas Dixon gives a wonderful, very comprehensive account of these developments from “passion” to “emotion” in his classic work, ‘From Passion to Emotion: The Creation of a Secular Category’. The bulk of Dixon’s discussion focusses on this transition in English texts, but it also occurs – to some degree, sometimes rather differently – in French, Spanish, Italian, and German texts of the same period.

A key figure whose influence is notable across much of this history is the French philosopher-scientist, Rene Descartes (1596-1650). He argued that it would be better (mieux) for science if we started referring to ‘emotions’ of the soul, rather than ‘passions’ of the soul.

Yet, at the same time, in keeping with tradition, Descartes decided to title his 1649 book on the topic ‘The Passions of the Soul’ (Les Passions de L’ame).

les passions

Cover of ‘Les Passions de L’ame’ by Descartes.

Descartes wrote in French, which like Spanish and Italian, has easily recognizable lexical equivalents for the English words “passion” and “emotion.” His suggestion that it would ultimately be better for us to speak of “emotion” rather than “passion” in scientific efforts to understand the affective domain, is tantamount to a conceptual revolution. He introduced a new, emerging, psychological meaning of the term “emotion” to the scientific world, setting in motion a larger transition in which “emotion” eventually came to replace “passion” as the keyword of the affective sciences. In doing so, he also refocused the scientific study of affective states and processes on episodes of relatively short duration, in keeping with the methodological orientation of current inquiries into the heart and nervous system. It was hard to find a place for affective states and processes of long duration in this new explanatory paradigm that focussed on direct observation and measurement in the here and now. That had been an important characteristic of the older passions, from which a person could suffer chronically for months, or even years. The new emotions were more sudden, transient, motions of the soul, now ‘active’ determinants of action and behavior that moved individuals to act. This made them quite different from the more ‘passive’ passions of the soul of ancient times, which the soul was said to suffer (Gr. pathé).

Front page of of 'Della Pazzia' by Vincenzo Chiarugi.

Front page of of ‘Della Pazzia’ by Vincenzo Chiarugi.

Another, later, medical writer who also used both the terms “passion” and “emotion” is the Florentine medical doctor, Vincenzo Chiarugi (1759-1829). His views on “passion” and “emotion” are contained in his 1793-5 classic work on insanity, Della Pazzia. He referred to these concepts in his native Italian, as “passioni” and “emozioni.”

Crucially, unlike Descartes, who argued that ultimately it would be better (mieux) to use the term “émotion” instead of “passion,” Chiarugi forcefully demonstrated that we must retain and use both terms, because they serve different purposes.

Chiarugi therefore apparently disagrees with Descartes on the relationship between “passion” and “emotion.” While the French scientist suggests that we can replace “passion” with “emotion,” the Italian doctor asserts that we need both, which means that we cannot replace the former with the latter, as Descartes had suggested.


Chiarugi’s work constitutes an important example of our thesis that “passion” and “emotion” are distinct, but mutually complementary, theoretical terms and concepts in the affective sciences. Other, different versions of the distinction, and the reasons for making it, can be found in the work of medical writers like Philippe Pinel (1745-1826), Sir Alexander Crichton (1763-1856), Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol (1772-1840), as well as the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). What is curious about all this is that, although they are all major figure in their respective fields, this aspect of these major thinkers’ work has been almost entirely overlooked, not only in the history of affective terms and concepts, but also the history of “emotion” more generally. Likewise, there appears to be little or no appreciation of the importance of the distinction between “passion” and “emotion” for science, or indeed the ‘philosophy of emotion’, today.

How did this happen? The answer is too long for this blog and constitutes a major research project of its own. Suffice it to say that, in the end, Descartes’ strategy proved to be the more compelling, and numerous philosophers and scientists across Europe began to adopt the term “emotion” as their primary theoretical term of art in their studies of what used to be called the “passions.” Interest in long term affective states and processes diminished as the study of short term affective states and processes increased. The development of new experimental methods and paradigms in the sciences probably played a major role in this change. In any case, by the 19th century, “emotion” was firmly in place and “passion” had largely disappeared from the theoretical vocabulary of science and philosophy.

As indicated above, there are some famous exceptions to this trend which takes us from “passions” to “emotions.” Together those exceptions form part of a distinct development, namely, the history of “passion” and “emotion,” which must be contrasted with the wider and far more influential history from “passion” to “emotion,” which is the received view. The key figure in this alternate history where “emotion” does not displace or eradicate “passion,” but both coexist together alongside each other, is somebody we have not mentioned yet. It is the French pioneer of experimental psychology, the philosopher Théodule-Armand Ribot (1839-1916).

Théodule-Armand Ribot. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Théodule-Armand Ribot. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ribot’s overall position with respect to these issues is set out in his 1907 ‘Essay on the Passions’ (Essai sur les passions). There, he argues very clearly and forcefully, that we must retain – and reinstate, where necessary – the term “passion” in science and philosophy. The strongest argument that can be marshalled in defense of Ribot’s thesis is that there are theoretical tasks in philosophy and the affective sciences that can only properly be accomplished with “passion” working alongside “emotion.” Ribot’s work on this topic is, by intention, very schematic and structural, as he is primarily concerned with the general form of psychological concepts at this stage, treating the more specific psychological study of those states as a separate task that must inquire into their place in culture and history. According to him, so far as their form is concerned, passions are complex and dynamic long term affective syndromes, or tendencies (tendances), that emanate from and are centered around a fixed idea (idée fixe). It is important to stress that, for Ribot, passions are thoroughly embodied. In a psychophysical monism that is reminiscent of Spinoza, he views the mental and physical aspects of the passions as two sides of a common coin.

A key aspect of the above definition is how it straddles the distinction between psychopathology and normality. Passions may begin innocently, and when they progress and develop within healthy limits, they can fill life with meaningful activities and purpose. However, when they evolve to extremes, passions can become obsessional, or even delusional, and they begin to suck all of an individual’s activities and energy into a single, all-encompassing, downward spiral – a process Ribot likens to an avalanche. When they get to these extremes, passions can also severely limit a person’s agency and capacity to make decisions, much like an addiction. Tragically, sometimes passions reach a point of no return and the individual in question is caught in the grip of a powerful affective syndrome from which they are unable to escape. They have lost control and are now ruled by the passion – by the ‘heart’ rather than by ‘reason’. Therefore, passions can lead to mental disorder, as well as physical illness and even death, although this is not always, nor necessarily, the case since, within limits, passions can also fill life with healthy, purposeful activities and meaning.

Note that cognitive, or thinking-based, therapies are unlikely to vanquish such powerful affective syndromes once they get entrenched, although they might be of limited help in preventing or slowing them. Commonly, only new, alternate passions can reverse, block, or divert pathological passions. Bursts of shorter affective interventions that employ the elicitation of short-term feelings and emotions can also be helpful in weakening the hold of a morbid passion on an individual’s thinking and behavior. Recent empirical research on Anorexia Nervosa undertaken by the present writer in association with clinical collaborators in psychiatry, has shown that the concept of “passion” has much to offer contemporary psychiatry in this area. Likewise with the study of emotion regulation and intelligence, which are substantially ‘blind’ without the contribution of passions that often serve to direct and organize emotions. In effect, passions connect the emotional dots that are typically associated with the different passions at various stages of their development. You need the construct “passion” to properly connect the dots – scientifically, in law-like, rule-governed, ways. Finally, the distinction between “passion” and “emotion” has also proven helpful in solving several vexing interpretive problems in the exegesis of some of Shakespeare’s plays, revealing his masterly psychological insight and erudition in a manner that is more perspicuous than before.

All of this adds up to a very respectable, and indeed a very promising legacy for a concept that has until now been largely relegated to the ‘dustbin’ of history. Scientists should be reminded that it is possible to make ‘discoveries’ in history that are not only of importance to contemporary historical studies, but even to contemporary science itself. This shared mission is certainly something to celebrate during Australian National Science Week.

Readers interested in pursuing these questions are invited to contribute to this blog, which unfortunately cannot offer a detailed bibliography. Most of the material from which this discussion is drawn is cited on my personal website at and many of the articles themselves are accessible through . Some of the research is unpublished and some of it is still ‘in the twinkle of my eye’. I wish to dedicate this blog to Philippa Maddern (1952-2014) whose untiring encouragement and support gave me faith and confidence in this project when I was in need of it.

Emotion Space Environment

By Tom Bristow, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.

Max Tom

Are emotions and space related? Spatial theory invites us to clarify the locus of human action – sometimes referred to as the practice of everyday life. Transcultural encounters are very interesting in this context, but how might a focus on ecology, landscape, city, metropolitan area or bioregion respond to this invitation?

This June I decided to seek out some help with these questions by visiting our partners within the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

There has been lots of exciting research in our Centre that has considered emotions in the contexts of performance, ritual and public spaces. There are also several researchers examining the idea of emotional contagion, something that affect theory lends itself to in terms of transcorporeality in a way that the biographical aspect of emotions theory short-circuits in its desire for the psychoanalysis of the individual subject. Professor Anne Brooks in her CHE blog outlines the specific role that the discipline of geography has to play in the contested space of the seats and sites of emotions in her review of the Edinburgh conference on Emotional Geographies, and readers of this blog would benefit from reviewing that entry before they read this contribution.

When I first came to the Centre I was struck by how much of our work is focused on human feelings, on society, on the mind; I couldn’t help but think how anthropocentric this all was. That response was partly owing to how in the preceding decade I had been over-exposed to environmental ethics, environmental philosophy and ecocriticism, which are critically oriented to dissolving the human subject into a larger field of play: to articulate a transpersonal fabric of life in which we are concerned for the ways that we inhabit more-than-human relationships that affords freedom, expression, and the curtailment of these. CHE was one of a number of collaborators at the Humanities Research Centre Conference (ANU) on this theme last year, titled Affective Habitus. However, slowly but surely, I began to observe how a number of scholars have pushed through with the question of the environment in a manner that my theoretical training and the new field of ecological literary studies had not.

Initially, I wondered why the focus on ‘society’ did not extend to the ‘environment’; I felt perplexed by the ways that theories of evolution seemed to end up in discussions that were primarily concerned with the mind, the hippocampus, and not the body, not the lifeworld in which we enact and respond to the affective contours of our experiences with others. I felt that a dualism between affect and emotion had not been resolved; rather, a diversion from some of the difficult conceptual terrain had been taken, resulting in a narcissistic turn to the human and most especially to the cognitive field – and my prejudices fuelled an instinct that this problem was particularly acute with scholars less comfortable in their bodies than their minds! It was time to stop here, rethink, and look again. Calm down. Breathe. Just what was it that I was referring to and naming the ‘environment’ – was there something ‘out there’, external to us humans? Was it something that physically registered the impact of climate change? How were these ideas nothing other than an extension of the dualism evident in the mind-body split that I was critiquing? It was time to go back to basics and rethink the traditional ‘somatic envelope’ as Peter de Bolla writes: the affective, bodily experience of being in the world.

I have recently written on a correspondence between ecocriticism’s promotion of interdependency and intimacy, and contemporary analytical philosophy’s perspectives on the embodied, enactive, embedded and extended mind (the 4E ontologies). Both belie the radical separation of mind and body, body and world inherent to dualism, while also considering what constitutes an ‘environment’ for minds and things. My research project requires me to think through a difficult question: how might the environmental humanities – particularly the field of environmental literary studies – learn from the history of emotions? Put more simply: are there approaches or findings in the emotions project that can help us better understand human relationships with the more-than-human world?

I had been finding this quite a difficult question until I felt an electric charge in the air during our emotions reading group in Melbourne in May this year. We had discussed the advantages of these non-cognitive perspectives when turning to Daniel M. Gross’s article on Darwin, and we considered how thinking of things at play was a way to bridge (or better, reject!) the conflicted epistemology, or schizophrenia evident in our methodology that must respond to theories of evolution and social construction simultaneously. It was one of those light bulb moments that are so rare, and often depend on particular group dynamics. Gross ends his article by drawing on 4E ontologies to state that ‘Just as we cannot understand bird flight by studying only feathers… we cannot understand emotional experience by studying only the face, the eyeball, the ear, the brain.’

The point here, I think, is to analyse, respond to, and attempt to feel the experience of the bird’s body and how this in itself is a creative evolutionary expression of worldliness. While we might like to think of the development of our mammalian brains through natural selection, we might slow down when we think of ourselves as a species, in the same way that we would think of birds. As Mick Smith writes: ‘species are significant for the world’ in that all things with life have effects and carry with them ‘various semiotic possibilities’; to lose species, therefore ‘is to lose [a form of] openness on the world.’ Life, in its various forms, exercises different ways of becoming meaningful, and it harnesses various phenomenological experiences of a sensed world. Perhaps this is a new way to think of our affective experiences as humans? I’m not fully convinced about that, and I’m also keen think to through the project of Romanticism that seemed to ask for a larger sense of self than that constituted by sense experience alone. However, there is something worth exploring here. I would also like to state that this diversion into phenomenology might seem like a long way from what might help us better understand situated emotions, that is emotions in place, in space, in environments; however, it was one of four starting points that I took to colleagues in Berlin and I wanted to share it with you.

With help from Katrina O’Loughlin (UWA), Pen Woods (Sydney) and Benno Gammerl and Edgar Cabanas Diaz (Berlin), a group of us at the Max Planck Institute read articles by Sara Ahmed, Steve Pile, John Ryan and Andrea Witcomb. Taking these respectively, we discussed how happiness is sociable, how geography has come to a theoretical standoff between emotions and affect, how our emotional memories express a relationship with our environments, and how affective atmospheres in museums can trigger ethical responses to environments. When we stepped back to discuss themes running across these articles our findings were twofold: one considered attributes and processes of environmental experience, the other examined bidirectionality (between subjects and objects) and the question of contingency.

First of all, we realised that spatial features of our environments are to be found empirically and in discourse – there are real, physical spaces, and sites of experience that come to us through culture, and there are many spaces that combine the two; by extension, spaces contain and structure affect and also enable unexpected emotional practices. From here we concluded that spaces are conditions of possibility for agents, and those conditions of possibility need to be historicized for they really articulate meaning-making practices – for example, consider a first foray into a gay bar, or an outsider’s experience of an occult ritual. Secondly, after reviewing the academic literature it felt important to clarify that emotions and space are not reducible to each other; ‘space’ and ‘emotions’ move in-between our understanding of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ – just consider causal and organic relations between discrete things in space over time and you’ll soon come to an understanding that the relation between these is ongoing: there is always instability and dynamism. We seemed to like this idea.

As Giovanni Tarantino writes, citing Charles Zika, feelings and sentiments are not diametrically opposed. The different yet related ways of perceiving the world reminds us of the import of acknowledging hybrid environments that we experience through these two interdependent filters. If, as Zika concludes, emotions are integral to all human action, then we might wish to further consider the spaces in which these actions play out, for these spaces are equally subject to cognitive and affective perceptions, and social and biological formations. If emotion is ‘critical to the fields of politics and society’, surely it is critical to our understanding of environments, too? Our group in Berlin were not in a rush to escape what Zika names ‘the widely perceived dichotomy between a social and cultural level’ by simply displacing these scenes of interaction for an expansive sense of the cultural as the ‘environment.’ However, we did agree upon two things: firstly, thinking ‘environmentally’ – i.e. taking seriously humans as part of the more-than-human world (rather than conceiving an ‘external’ environment at a distance from us) – raises methodological concerns about the roles of social construction and evolution and our sense of the body as situated in and imprinted by space. We felt that such a perspective could be attentive to the organic and the material, to their formations and deformations. Secondly, intimate/ traditional knowledge of one’s environment is part of the process of building communities; the naming of things in space is a power that comes from an initiation process (‘sensorial apprenticeship’ as Ryan suggests) instructing us of the ways to put our body in places, for example appreciating a local flower, following a culturally specific ritual. These are exciting findings from an initial conversation and we hope to continue the dialogue between Australia and Germany over the next twelve months.

When the Australian philosopher, Val Plumwood, conceived of rational thought as ‘sado-dispassionate scientism’, that is enlightenment thinking based upon a dualism, which first registered in the cultural distinction between the sacred and profane, she was helping us to conceive of an ‘ontological divide’ that allows us to keep the world of living things at a distance from human experience. In Australia this is a particular problem for two reasons: firstly, we face exceptionally challenging local and global stresses of desalination, the management of the barrier reef and ocean acidification, invasion ecologies, climate change, species depletion, rewilding, and energy and population issues. Secondly, we seem to think that the fuse of our emotions can only be traced back into the mists of a European past; rather it has been lit in today’s environmental contexts and their sociogenic contours, which, taken to the question of the Aboriginal relation to ‘country,’ are inflected by the politics of grief.

For Stephen Muecke, Aboriginal philosophies ‘are all about keeping things alive in their place’ – I feel that a history of emotions, distributed around this country, might be sensitive to the affective immanence of broken landscapes, practices that generate forms of belonging and their concomitant economic, social and political processes, which are largely understated by the now normalised postcolonial euphemism ‘settler society.’ The first step to addressing this obscured narrative of feelings in space, following our first examination of new methodological approaches to emotions in Berlin, would be to rethink the history of emotions in terms of spatial theory and how this extends to a sense of the environment as the site and seat of emotions over time. During a period where a growing acknowledgement ‘of the impact of societal forces on the biosphere’ are couched in terms ‘of a narrative so completely dominated by natural science’ as Malm and Hornborg argue, it is time that our substantial contribution to the critical interpretation of human practices leads us towards a confident interjection in this domain, and helps us to construct a new framework for the ‘environment’ and ‘emotions’ for public understanding and debate.



Further reading:


Sara Ahmed, ‘Sociable Happiness.’ Emotions, Space and Society 1 (2008): 10-13.

Peter de Bolla, The Education of the Eye: Painting, Landscape, and Architecture in Eighteenth-century Britain, Stanford UP, 2003.

Daniel M. Gross, ‘Defending the Humanities with Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872),’ Critical Inquiry 37 (2010): 34-59.

Andreas Malm and Alf Hornborg, ‘The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative,’ The Anthropocene Review 1.1 (2014): 62-69.

Stephen Muecke, ‘The Sacred in History,’ Humanities Research 1 (1999): 26-37.

Steve Pile, ‘Emotions and Affect in Recent Human Geography.’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (2010): 5-20.

Val Plumwood, ‘Journey to the Heart of Stone.’ In Culture, Creativity and Environment: New Environmentalist Criticism (Eds Fiona Becket and Terry Gifford). Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. 17-37.

John Ryan, ‘Botanical Memory: Exploring Emotional Recollections of Native Flora in the Southwest of Western Australia.’ Emotion, Space and Society 30 (2012): 1-12.

Mick Smith, “Ecological Community, the Sense of the World, and Senseless Extinction,” Environmental Humanities 2 (2013), 21-41.

Andrea Witcomb, ‘Toward A Pedagogy of Feeling: Understanding How Museums Create a Space for Cross-Cultural Encounters.’ In The International Handbooks of Museum Studies: Museums Theory (Eds. Andrea Witcomb and Kylie Message). London: John Wiley and Sons, 2015. 321-344.

The politics of friendship: expectations and self-reflection in times of conciliation

By Doctoral Candidate, Angelique Stastny, The University of Melbourne

Narratives of friendship have been inherent to political practices and diplomacy. Friendship and its opposite – enmity – translate in politics as consensus and conflict, and together they have drawn the physical and imagined contours of societies and nations. The politics of friendship and colonialism, for instance, have often worked together, the former being a commonly-used tool by European nations to legitimize colonisation as well as to comprehend, contain, and subjugate colonised populations. The politics of friendship was a way of locating colonised people, first portrayed as strange and unfamiliar, on the colonial axis of power: from allies, unwilling friends, to enemies. These narratives constructed spaces of inclusion and exclusion and created colonial geographies where space was constructed around the binaries of Self/Other, Domesticated/Strange, and Friend/Foe.

Image:  Mr Murray Walker (Designer) & William Barak (Artist) & Tommy McRae (Artist) & Victorian Tapestry Workshop (Maker) 1832, Tapestry - & Now Exploration & Settlement Are Underway, Victorian Tapestry Workshop, 2001. Courtesy of Museum Victoria.

Image: Mr Murray Walker (Designer) & William Barak (Artist) & Tommy McRae (Artist) & Victorian Tapestry Workshop (Maker) 1832, Tapestry – & Now Exploration & Settlement Are Underway, Victorian Tapestry Workshop, 2001. Courtesy of Museum Victoria.

Early colonial school textbooks in Australia reveal that this politics of friendship reflected a Eurocentric notion of social relations and conciliation, within which colonised people were expected to accept, and adopt, the values of the Europe-inherited colonial cultures. European settlers were often portrayed of friendly character and goodwill, and promoted and nurtured friendly relationships with colonised populations. This politics of friendship aimed to contain colonised people and were defined according to European values and attitudes. Such representations of friendship precluded any possibility of foreignness. It beheld assimilatory values and was a political strategy to contain and comprehend the perceived “strangeness”, the incommensurable, by making it commensurable. The colonial politics of friendship was therefore alike “space-making” rather than peace-making/keeping. This space-making consisted in the creation of a desired homogenous community (through inclusion and exclusion) and the concomitant erasure of its perceived vulnerability. This space-making moment – when the colonised “Other” was ascribed the category of either unwilling or compliant friend – was a staged moment of failed or successful friendship, and in all cases an early moment of nation-making. George Sutherland’s textbook Easy stories for Australian children: A junior reader of Australian history correlated with geography published around the time of Federation is, in that sense, most emblematic of these narratives and politics.

The politics of friendship was represented as an emotional drive that brought together individuals and worked in favour of conciliation and the creation or refashioning of nations around colonial European ideals. This politics of friendship was based on the projection of the European Self onto the “Other”, and on the “Other’s” capacity to sustain this self-reflection, rather than on mutual understanding across diversity.

Today, at a time when several societies around the world attempt to grapple with these colonial pasts towards post-colonial futures, and engage in renewed processes of conciliation, the politics of friendship, and the meaning given to this friendship, is a fine line between entrenched self-projection and mutual understanding.


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council. 23 April 2015.

Every year, 30 July is the International Day of Friendship; a day during which the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encourages to promote ‘international understanding and respect for diversity’ and to ‘cultivate warm ties that strengthen our common humanity and promote the well-being of the human family.’ His words encapsulate notions of difference, respect and equality in diversity. Yet, only a few days apart, on 9 August, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples reminds us that this call for friendship is made in a context of cultural diversity but also of a continuing, global structural disparity born out of European colonialisms. Friendship, a relationship of equals, can exist between individuals within, and despite, this overarching structural disparity but it may take more than benevolence and compassion. It calls for an individual critical reflection on one’s social position and social imagination that transcends unequal power relations. Friendship thereupon moves away from being an emotional drive to being the possible emotional outcome – to be cherished – of an effort of self-critique and mutual understanding.

The Aesthetic of Dark Mofo: Emotion, Darkness and the Tasmanian Gothic

By Alicia Marchant and Penelope Edmonds,

History, The University of Tasmania

Dark Mofo 2015 Fire Twirlers. Photo credit: Derek Tickner, courtesy of Dark Mofo

Dark Mofo 2015 Fire Twirlers. Photo credit: Derek Tickner, courtesy of Dark Mofo.

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,

Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,

It lies behind stars and under hills,

And empty holes it fills,

It comes first and follows after,

Ends life, kills laughter.

J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit


The melancholic shadow that encases Tasmania during the long winter is the focus of Dark Mofo celebrations. Timed to mark the Winter Solstice, Dark Mofo entices people out into the night air, and for eleven consecutive nights in later June, a cold Hobart is illuminated. This year the dark was kept at bay by a spotlight streaming sky-wards (Pulse Column by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer), and another circling from a boat to light the River Derwent’s shoreline complete with foghorn sounding (Night Ship by Anthony McCall). Flames jump out of metal structures and signs, and fires in forty-four gallon drums are scattered around the Hobart docks.

Pulse Column  Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)

Pulse Column. Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin. Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)

Celebrations continued over the weekend with the Huon Valley’s Mid-Winter Festival (17th-19th July). The program included nocturnal feasting, bonfires, the burning of a Mid-Winter Man (a five metre-tall effigy), storytelling, folk music and of course sampling the cider for which the region is famous. The central event to the Mid-Winter Festival is a ‘wassailing’ ceremony performed to awaken the apple trees and encourage autumn growth. Drawing on traditions practiced in the south-west of the British Isles in the early modern era and even earlier, wassailing in the Huon includes singing and banging on pots and pans, and a volley of guns, so as to create enough noise to scare away the evil spirits that could lurk and do damage to the precious apple trees.

The ‘dark’ that the festival draws upon is both literal and metaphoric. It is not only a celebration of the pitch-black winter night, but also the ‘dark’ shadows: the macabre, gruesome, quirky, grim, unenlightened and savage. The term ‘dark’ has been used historically to refer both to the abnormal and the ways in which humanity knows of and engages with this abnormal. In religious contexts, ‘darkness’ has long been associated with evil and the devil, but also with ignorance: the ‘Dark Ages’ were named by renaissance scholars to contrast them with their own perceived enlightenment. Yet darkness could also be used to obscure those elements of society that were ‘to be kept in the dark’ and hidden; the ‘dark house’ denoted a mental asylum, as Shakespeare uses it in As you Like It (Act III. Ii. 387): ‘Loue is meerely a madnesse, and … deserues as wel a darke house, and a whip, as madmen do.’ Recent bourgeoning scholarship in tourism studies uses the term ‘dark tourism’ to refer to people’s fascination for visiting sites associated with death, massacre, torture and the like. Although the term ‘dark tourism’ was coined in 1996, since time immemorial people have engaged with and actively sought out the shocking, the alienating and the ‘dark’. The well-attended violent spectacles of execution in public spaces in medieval and early modern Europe, for instance, as well as the practice of exhibiting and sometimes dissecting the dead body post-mortem, have been well documented. More recently, areas hit by the 2004 Tsunami, Nazi Concentration Camps and gulags, for instance, as places of persecution with a ‘heritage that hurts’, have attracted visitors. The raison d’être of dark tourism is emotion: dark tourists commonly wish to experience heightened emotions such as fear, disgust, shame and pain, both emotional and physical.

The Body. Image credit: Kara Healey. Image courtesy of the artists and Dark Mofo 2015.

The Body. Image credit: Kara Healey. Image courtesy of the artists and Dark Mofo 2015.

Dark tourism appears to satisfy some people’s curiosity about the processes of death and humanity’s mechanisms for coping with it, and even inflicting it. At Dark Mofo, death and the performances and rituals associated with death are front and centre, along with the cycles of nature and seasonal decay. Dark Mofo celebrates the transitional moments and transformations of the universe and of humanity. The programme for 2015 included the participatory theatrical performance Funeral, and music performed by bands named the Pallbearer and the Body. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and chorus performed a series of requiems, while the festival films had bloody overtones. After watching the film The Kettering Incident, a friend reported: ‘now I am scared of Tasmania’.

Funeral. Image courtesy of the Guerrilla Museum and Dark Mofo 2015.

Funeral. Image courtesy of the Guerrilla Museum and Dark Mofo 2015.

One of the centre-pieces of Dark Mofo, the Ogoh-Ogoh, three monsters built in the Balinese Hindu tradition, highlights the relationship between the emotions and the ‘dark’.[1] Throughout the festival people wrote their ‘darkest’ fears privately on a piece of paper and placed them onto or inside one of the giant monsters. ‘Deep water’, ‘enclosed spaces’ and, oddly, ‘trampolines’ were some of the fears that we noticed recorded (Alicia’s six-year-old wrote ‘big teeth’; Penny’s seven-year-old wrote ‘fires’). On the night of the Solstice the Ogoh-Ogoh monsters were carried in procession to the docks, where one of them (Jessica the Handfish) was set alight, sending peoples’ fears up in smoke. The ritual incineration of the monsters was deeply grounded in anxieties about the unknown, and particularly fears of a violent and untimely death, like drowning (‘deep water’) and suffocating (‘enclosed spaces.’) Sometimes, however, fears and memories of past events are too uncomfortable and immediate; in Dark Mofo 2014, Articulated Intersect (Rafael Lozano-Hemmer), an installation of eighteen powerful spotlights pointing sky-wards that could be moved around by the public, prompted terror in several older Hobart residents who were survivors of the Blitz in London or bombing elsewhere in Europe. For these viewers, the sight of the search-lights roused unwanted emotions and memories.

Ogoh Ogoh - The Burningx Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin. Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art).

Ogoh Ogoh – The Burningx. Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin. Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art).

Ogoh Ogoh – The Burningx. Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)

Dark Mofo 2015. Picture: Derek Tickner, courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

Dark Mofo 2015. Picture: Derek Tickner, courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

During this year’s Dark Mofo, the Narryna Heritage Museum, a colonial mansion built in Battery Point in 1836, was transformed into a Georgian house in mourning with the exhibition Ashes to Ashes (Curated by Scott Carlin and Lana Nelson with photography by Angela Waterson). Visitors were given undertakers’ hats and mourning veils on entering the house, and engaged in past mourning rituals, filing past a coffin laid out in the front room. Female manikins in ornate, nineteenth-century mourning dresses stood in attendance. In another room, a four-poster deathbed was draped with interpretative posters describing causes of death in the early days of the Hobart settlement: by diseases, lightning, fire and crushing by log wagons. On the upper floor of the house were objects associated with mourning practices of the past, including jewellery made from deceased loved-ones’ hair. Ashes to Ashes embodied the duality characterising so much of Dark Mofo: the conflicting feelings of alienation and familiarity, a Freudian ‘uncanniness’. As well as evoking the horrors of the relatively recent past, the exhibition was also a reminder that while rituals and practices might change, powerful emotions like grief and melancholy are common to people across time.

With the billing, ‘Something strange has taken over the industrial guts of the Old Mercury Building,’ artists Patricia Piccinini and Peter Hennessey’s bizarre, hybrid couplings of plants and animals, and uncanny creatures jarringly malformed were shown in the basement of a heritage city building. The Shadows Calling provides an interesting contemporary counterpoint to popular ideas of a 19th century gothic Tasmania. The reconfigured and monstrous beings are suggestive of a dark alien crop invigilating the urban spaces of the Apple Isle.

The Shadows Calling, Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessey  'The Bridge' Patricia Piccinini Silicone, Fibreglass, auto paint, clothing, human hair Ed 3 + 1 AP The Shadows Calling, Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessey  'The Bridge' Patricia Piccinini Silicone, Fibreglass, auto paint, clothing, human hair Ed 3 + 1 AP Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy of the artists and Detached gallery, Hobart, Tasmania

The Shadows Calling, Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessey
‘The Bridge’
Patricia Piccinini
Silicone, Fibreglass, auto paint, clothing, human hair
Ed 3 + 1 AP
Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin
Image Courtesy of the artists and Detached gallery, Hobart, Tasmania

Giidanyba, a series of seven sculptures by Tyrone Sheather depicting spirits from Aboriginal mythology, was captivating and nostalgic. In a very different way to Ashes to Ashes, it too is a work of ritual, using luminous images in darkness to create an initiatory impression. Hovering above the ground, each spirit appears to move when approached, glowing, with heart palpitating. They recall a lost ancestral place and a heritage destroyed by the cultivation of another; positioned within the old walls of the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, now a landscaped parkland, the seven figures reclaim a space of aboriginal importance. They mourn the loss of the middens upon which the garden was built, as well as the deaths and dispossession of Aboriginal peoples that occurred throughout Tasmania. Yet such pre-contact spiritual entities were also entirely palatable for non-indigenous attendees and offshore visitors – these installations were not darkly unsettling, but recuperative of an Aboriginal spirituality. Such a display prompts us to ponder: what is the ‘dark’ in Dark Mofo, and in what ways might it privilege some forms of ‘darkness’ over others? What must remain unspoken?

Giidanyba  (Tyrone Sheather), Image by Ali Marchant

Giidanyba. (Tyrone Sheather), Image by Ali Marchant

Dark Mofo’s aesthetic gels with other shades of ‘dark’ in the Tasmanian background. With its wealth of historic places associated with crime and punishment, imprisonment, pain, Aboriginal dispossession and massacre, Tasmania is particularly conducive to examinations of the ‘dark’. The twin forces of convictism and colonisation have made Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) notorious in the global historical imagination, and continue to resonate in Tasmania’s present, in popular culture, visual art and literature, and in haunted places of pain, shame, and unsettlement. Dark Mofo draws upon the Tasmanian dark and gothic, and challenges notions of the normal and abnormal. Though its aesthetic is archetypal, at times primordial, and so universalising, it works so well because Tasmania has long held a prime vantage point for looking into the dark.

The Fire Organ (Bastiaan Maris), Photo by Penny Edmonds.

The Fire Organ.(Bastiaan Maris), Photo by Penny Edmonds.

[1] The Oogh-Oogh was a collaboration between Dark Mofo, Balinese artists, The University of Tasmania Centre for Asian Studies and the University of Tasmania Centre of the Arts.

Emotions, Conflict and Communal Recovery

By CHE Honorary Researcher, Emma Hutchison, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland

Why do divided communities continue to fight when their losses are already so great? Why is more conflict often seen as the only way to address feelings of injustice and bereavement?

How to break cycles of violence is an age-old question which has preoccupied thinkers for centuries, ranging from Plato to Levinas and from Arendt to Badiou. There is obviously no simple answer. Political and community leaders confront this time and again. Think of some of the world’s current and most prominent conflicts: the tension between Israel and Palestine, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir, the current confrontation with Islamic State. In many of these and other cases, violence is so entrenched that the respective conflict seems “intractable”.

With Mandela Day approaching on July 18 it is time to reflect on these vicious cycles of violence and conflict. It is time to visualize a way out.   In this short blog I highlight one issue that is particularly crucial but remains largely under-appreciated by academics and policy makers: the role that emotions play in both conflict and reconciliation.

Emotions and conflict

To say that violence and ensuing trauma are profoundly emotional is commonsensical. Yes, of course violence is emotional – both in its origins and its effects. Violence leaves complex emotional legacies that affect the every day practices of communities for long after the initial conflict has passed.

Even though the links between emotions and conflict seem self-apparent, the complex ways through which emotions can support violence are often glossed over or left out. When it comes to how communities can best recover and move on after conflict, some of the most prominent political approaches view emotions not as an integral part of conflict and reconciliation, but merely as a factor that can be easily isolated and dealt with strategically. The assumption is, that it is enough to simply “take some of the emotion out of the debate” and find a solution.[1]

Srebrenica massacre memorial, 2009.

Srebrenica massacre memorial, 2009.

But this is not so. We know from the emotions literature that individuals and communities experience the world and enact their attachments through the emotions and affects they feel every day. All emotions help to make us who we are – those that are experienced through conflict are no exception. Emotions help to situate us. This is why we cannot simply forget or ‘do away’ with emotions associated with conflict.

Still, this does leave us with a troubling predicament. If communities divided by violence and injustice exist at least in part through affective logics that supported such conflict, how can emotions be a part of the resolution of conflict? Is it possible for emotions to be part of the solution?

Working through emotions after violence and trauma

There is a need to engage seriously not only with how emotions and conflict are inevitably intertwined, but also with emotions that can be actively harnessed to transform conflict and seek reconciliation.

A useful place to start lies with recognizing how particular emotional practices have come to shape individuals and communities in the wake of conflict. To borrow from Daniel Goleman, we need to tap into our “emotional intelligence” in order to appreciate the emotions at stake in conflict.[2] How do divided, potentially traumatized communities think and feel? Why do they think the things they think and feel the things they feel?

Young people view images of survivors of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China on Dragon Boat Festival Holiday, 2013.

Young people view images of survivors of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China on Dragon Boat Festival Holiday, 2013.

The emotional and psychological history that accompanies conflict is complicated and in each circumstance unique, yet patterns are often observed. Some scholars write of how individuals and communities can be so traumatized they search to “forget” what they’ve been through, while all the while they become fixated on, and constituted by, the emotions associated with suffering and a sense of injustice.[3]   Discourses fueled with humiliation, shame, anger and continued insecurity can prevail.[4]   Recovery in this situation becomes more about an emotional “acting out” of such insecurity, which can lead to more violence, than about genuine healing.

Identifying the emotional history of conflict provides a crucial opportunity: it can prompt divided communities to stop, reflect upon and potentially work through affective dispositions that may have propelled – and importantly, may also perpetuate violence.

The possibility of grief

Key here is, I suggest, the notion of grief, for it can potentially pave a way to work through and overcome the emotions that drive conflict.

Grief is an essential part of healing and recovery after conflict and loss. It encompasses a range of bereavement and mourning practices that prompt traumatized individuals and communities to come to terms with what they have been through, to reckon with the sense of injury. Rather than neglecting or glossing over the affective dimensions of violence, it involves an active engagement with the traumatic past, its emotions and memories.[5] This is akin to the type of societal healing that Nelson Mandela foresaw for post-apartheid South Africa. As he put it prior to reconciliation:

Only by knowing the truth can we hope to heal the terrible wounds of the past that are the legacy of apartheid. Only the truth can put the past to rest.

While not a finite process and also culturally distinct, this type of grief work would provide divided communities with a space to express and potentially transform the emotional practices that may pull them back into the traumas of conflict and, in turn, further violence. Grief can, in this sense be a form of working through, that prompts a search to mourn and, in turn, emotionally accept a history of loss in such a way that individuals and communities can move forward.


Emma Hutchison is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland and an Associate Investigator in CHE. Her book, Affective Communities in World Politics: Collective Emotions After Trauma, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.



[1] Australian Government, Law Reform Commission, “Are Sedition Laws Necessary and Effective?”, 20 March 2006. Available at Accessed 6 July 2015.

[2] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. London: Bloomsbury, 1996.

[3] Jenny Edkins, “Forget Trauma? Responses to September 11”, International Relations, 16(2), 2002, pp. 243-256.

[4] Some of my work has examined the politics of emotional discourses and practices in Australia after the 2002 Bali bombing, see Emma Hutchison, “Trauma and the Politics of Emotions: Constituting Identity, Security and Community after the Bali Bombing,” International Relations, 24(1), 2010, pp. 65-86.

[5] Emma Hutchison and Roland Bleiker, “Grief and the Transformation of Emotions After War”, in Linda Ahall and Thomas Gregory (eds.), Emotions, Politics and War. London: Routledge, 2015.


5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies

By CHE International Investigator, Professor Ann Brooks, Professor of Sociology, Bournemouth University

The 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies hosted by The University of Edinburgh was set against the stunning backdrop of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags at The University of Edinburgh’s John McIntyre’s Conference Centre.

The University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh

The conference attracted 250 international academics from a wide range of disciplines including sociology, geography, literature, cultural studies, art, archaeology, anthropology, urban studies, gender studies, tourism and many more. Delegates came from the US, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Brazil among others. The conference chair was Professor Liz Bondi from The University of Edinburgh and supported by Elsevier publishers, who publish the conference journal Emotion, Space and Society and who hosted a superb pre-conference welcome reception.

The conference streams reflected an international and interdisciplinary research profile combining theoretical and applied work as well as implications for policy debates at the local and national level. For example in one of the conference themes, ‘Persisting Selves: the Practices and Politics of Keeping Going and Carry On’, (divided into I Selves; II Time and III Recovering), papers included: ‘How does “a day at a time” work? Patience, Persistence and Proaction in an Everyday Sustained Alcoholic’, (Julia Mills, University of Manchester) and ‘Persistence, Insistence and Endurance in Pregnancy Loss Grief’, (Abigail McNiven, University of Oxford). A conference theme which showcased a wide range of doctoral, postdoctoral and early career researchers work was, ‘Childhood Youth and Intergenerationality: Relational Geographies of Emotions /Affects, Childhood and Youth’, papers included: ‘The Emotional Geographies of Children of Prisoners’, (Helene Oldrup, The Danish National Centre for Social Research) and ‘Slovenia’s Izbrisani (‘Erased’) Youth, Transitional Spaces and Radical Ethical Acts’, (Stuart Aitken, San Diego State University). Other conference themes included ‘Creative Spaces’, ‘Emotions in Fieldwork’, ‘Urban Life in Theory and Practice’, ‘Time and Space’, ‘Liminal Spaces’, and ‘Connecting across Space: Tourism’.

I presented a paper in the ‘Urban Life in Theory and Practice’ stream as one of three papers discussing the impact of the urban environment and landscape on emotional well-being. My paper looked at the impact of gentrification in cities in the US including San Francisco and New York City, where long term city dwellers and migrants are being forced out of their homes because of the gentrification of traditionally ethnic parts of the cities by corporate investors and wealthy foreigners. I also explore the growth of the Occupy Movement as a collective expression of anger at the increasing disparities of wealth in US cities. This work is part of the work undertaken for a forthcoming book on Emotions and Cities.

One of the high points of the conference was the presentation of one of three keynotes –Professor Lauren Berlant, George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago.

Professor Lauren Berlant. Image courtesy of the author.

Professor Lauren Berlant. Image courtesy of the author.

Berlant is a foremost contributor to feminist and literary discourse in the US and it is a unique opportunity to have her appear at a UK conference. She is author of a number of outstanding books including: Cruel Optimism (2011), The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (2009), Desire/Love (2013), Our Monica, Ourselves: Clinton and the Affairs of State (2001), Intimacy (2000), The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (1997).

Berlant describes her work as follows:

“My work has focused on politics, emotion and intimacy in the U.S. nineteenth and twentieth centuries – now the twenty-first in particular, in relation to citizenship, to informal and normative modes of social belonging, and to affective attachments and fantasies that take shape through ordinary practices. These scenes zone and disturb the relations between public and private, white and non-white, straight and non-straight, and /or citizen and foreigner –along with providing settings for other, inventive kinds of social bond through which people imagine and practice world- making.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 5.04.20 pmPresenting her keynote address, ‘On being in Life without Wanting the World: Living in Ellipsis’, Berlant captured the imagination of delegates with an erudite and amusing presentation of concepts around emotion and affect. Berlant sought to define a range of new ‘affective’ states for addressing sex, democracy and belonging. Drawing on one of the classical social theorist Georg Simmel’s work on Metropolis and Mental Life, Berlant explored the concept of ‘disassociation’. Her ability to communicate with a wide range of academics using complex and imaginative frameworks of analysis is inspiring both on pedagogical and substantive issues.

Other keynotes included Professor Jane Speedy, University of Bristol and Associate Professor Joyce Davidson, Queens University, Canada.

This was a conference which not only provided outstanding networking opportunities and an opportunity to develop research synergies with international and national delegates, but in addition it was a great opportunity for me to reflect on a chapter I have just completed on Lauren Berlant’s work for my upcoming book, Genealogies of Emotion, Intimacies and Desire (Routledge, New York 2015). More food for thought from this exceptional academic.

This was a conference to inspire the intellect, engage the senses, to enrich international networking and to light the way for doctoral, postdoctoral and early career researchers on the best of interdisciplinary research and to showcase this on the world stage.

Reading Faces: Bodies, Senses, Lives

By CHE Associate Investigator Melissa Raine, University of Melbourne

Image: 'Scene from a Novella'. by Liberale da Verona, ca. 1445–1527. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image: ‘Scene from a Novella’. by Liberale da Verona, ca. 1445–1527. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When I attended the recent “Reading the Face” collaboratory at the University of Melbourne, I was hopeful that bringing together the diverse subjects and perspectives listed in the program would result in unexpected connections and insights. I was not to be disappointed.

I was struck by the differing understandings of how the face was apprehended; a closely related issue was the connection between the face and the body. This gave me much to think about in terms of my current interest in the interplay of the senses and emotion. Jane Davidson’s work demonstrated how, during live performance, the faces of pianists affect the listener’s experience of the music. Her paper established, to my mind, the importance of a multi-sensory approach: although we “believe” music is experienced aurally, sound does not operate in isolation when other senses have the opportunity to participate. Another striking example of “sensory entrainment” emerged from discussion of Lisa Beaven’s interpretation of a landscape by Poussin. The term “ripple” was applied to the extraordinary effect, in the painting, of emotion transmitted from one figure to the next. That ripple was clearly aural in part, originating in the horrified cry of a witness to a terrible death. Alison Inglis discussed pre-Raphaelite artist George Sandys’ repeated representations of a young woman chewing on a lock of her own hair. This gesture, it seemed to me, played with the desire to touch that is implicit in eroticised images of young women, rendering her less available to the audience. When Stephanie Downes discussed the intimacy of encountering faces in the margins of medieval manuscripts, I found myself wondering, which sense truly apprehends the written text? Does reading a text with marginal faces require two different modes of apprehension simultaneously?

In my experience of the conference, two papers spoke to each other with particular urgency, both dealing with personal responses to traumatic early life experiences, both searching intensely for empowerment. Sarah Richardson discussed the confronting work of Phoebe Gloeckner, who draws upon her own childhood and young-adult experiences of sexual abuse and addiction in her graphic novels. Her work is explicit and distressing. Bindi Cole Chocka spoke of her own history of neglect and abuse, and its relationship with her video installation, We All Need Forgiveness, where 30 individual videotaped faces look out at the audience, uttering the phrase “I forgive you”. This work affected many collaboratory participants powerfully, and positively. By comparison, Gloeckner’s work seemed overwhelming for many, but her images have stayed with me. As Richardson pointed out, Gloeckner reclaims the agency of the abused subjects she represents; by refusing to flinch from representing the explicitness of the abuses, her work challenges the shamefulness that can be so insidiously associated with the recipient of abuse.

Chocka’s work involved “face” in an almost pure form, the focus entirely on the expressions and words spoken; Gloeckner’s faces were inextricable from bodies and what was done to the whole person. Chocka spoke about an earlier phase in her work where her art was “angry”, a phase she’d left behind; I wondered if she would consider Gloeckner’s work angry? If so, would she accord it any positive value? Similarly, Chocka’s emphasis on forgiveness implied an end goal of healing; I wondered what Gloeckner, a trained medical illustrator who also creates images of herself diseased to challenge the viewer’s gaze, would make of the concept? While Gloeckner’s faces and bodies were inextricable, perhaps the most powerful face of the conference for me was Gloeckner’s luridly graphic, cloyingly innocent eight-year-old girl poised on the brink of an early abuse, the enticement by her stepfather to feel grown-up by drinking wine. I say cloying, because the hyper-innocence and sweetness of this face defied – or should have defied — the possibility of exploitation. The most disturbing detail was the girl’s missing tooth. The blackness of that gap seemed symbolically to foreshadow the possibility of trespass, bringing home the sickening vulnerability of the child, the magnitude of that betrayal of trust, the sheer damage that would be inflicted. The difficulty of looking at Gloeckner’s work underscores how important it is for her work to be looked at.

Gloeckner’s faces were powerfully connected to disturbing representations of bodies, provoking often visceral responses; the multi-sensory apprehension that is at work in more pleasing aesthetic experiences was also in play here, the results discomforting, but generating understanding and empathy. The very detachment of Chocka’s faces from context, including body, seemed integral to the sense of resolution that her work strives to promote. Not surprisingly, I found myself connecting these works with the testimony from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that were, on those same days, entering my awareness via the media. I wondered if either Chocka’s or Gloeckner’s works might speak to any of these people, and more importantly, make a meaningful contribution to any of those lives.

Unexpected insights? Most certainly.

Livestream videos of the presentations may be found here.

Why education matters: breaking cycles of child labour in the past and in the present

'Against Child Labou'r flyer from the International Labour Organisation.

‘Against Child Labour’ flyer from the International Labour Organisation.

June 12 was ‘World Against Child Labour Day’, where nations and individuals mark their protest against the 215 million children around the world who continue to do work that harms them or stops them from attending school.[1] One of the ways the problem of modern child labour is being tackled is through promoting the benefits of education, marked in 2015 by the slogan ‘No to Child Labour. Yes to Quality Education’. Yet, this is not a solution that is novel to the twenty-first century, nor is it one that is particularly straightforward. Education as a route out of poverty and as a way of gaining status and financial security is firmly rooted in the past. There has been a demand for quality education by poor parents since the early modern period and a number of responses to this problem. In the early eighteenth century a pro-forma for setting up charity schools was written which highlights the importance of education and the flourishing demand for charity schools during the period:

A Form of a Subscription for a Charity School, 1699-1718

‘And whereas many Poor People are desirous of having their Children Taught, but are not able to afford them a Christian and Useful Education; We whose Names are underwritten, do agree to pay Yearly, at Four equal Payments, the several and respective Sums of Money over against our Names respectively subscribed, for the setting up of a Charity-School in the Parish of in the City of or in the County of for Teaching [Poor Boys, or Poor Girls, or] Poor children to Read and Instructing them in the Knowledge and Practice of the Christian Religion … and for Learning them such other Things as are suitable to their Condition and Capacity.’

The specifics for each charity school are helpfully left blank to ease the process of creating new schools for poorer children.

Of course, the same problems existed in the past as they do today. How do families accommodate the loss of earnings when their children are in school instead of working? How can poor families provide the necessary clothing, books and tools for the young school boy or school girl? These problems were just as real in the past as they are for countless families today who rely on everyone in the family contributing to often inadequate family incomes. But breaking this cycle and encouraging education has historically been one of the issues parents, local communities and religious leaders have confronted, even when attempts to provide education can only be described as sporadic, slow and definitely privileging the education of boys over girls. We’d do well to remember that it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that England would make primary school education free and compulsory.

At the same time, the provision of compulsory schooling should not romantically be seen as an investment in a work-free childhood. Not only did many children in the past and today combine work with school, but much schooling has been ideologically and practically designed to create a highly-skilled workforce. State investments in education continue to be justified on the grounds that employers require their workforces at a minimum to be literate and numerate, and often to have a broad range of knowledge. Updates in the curriculum are still justified in terms of business-need, as much as what benefits the welfare of the child.

Moreover, child labour has incorporated a wide range of experiences, especially when considered over time and place. Most modern audiences have little tolerance for children’s labour being used in factories or industrial work, where children are apart from families, face poor working conditions, and even poorer wages, and where children’s later life opportunities seem limited by such experiences. The social, physical and emotional toll this takes on children should not be underestimated. The ‘World Against Child Labour Day’ recognises the physical, psychosocial and moral dangers of child labour.

Historically however, much child labour happened in the home and within family structures. In such spaces, children might be taught to work the farm they would inherit or be apprenticed to a trade, such as millinery work for girls or shoe-making for boys, that provided children with the opportunities to run successful businesses, even become very wealthy, in later life. For such children, child labour was also a form of education that was often done by parents or parent-proxies. Apprenticeship contracts, for example, typically required that the employers whom children lived with not only provided a good education in their trade, but ensured the health and social wellbeing of their wards. Cruel masters were subject to discipline, both by the courts and the wider community.

The importance of education for such children was less about making good workers, or even enabling social mobility, than making good citizens. Education also provides children with the ability to read widely, to engage in political debate and to fully participate in the social and cultural life of their communities. Education provides access to a dimension of cultural life that reminds us that life is not only about work, but about the pleasures of creativity and cultural engagement. Perhaps most importantly, education ensures that people from all social backgrounds have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the public sphere. As we commemorate ‘World Against Child Labour Day’, and demand quality education for all children, we are reminded that what we want from education is not just good workers, or a more economically-productive society, but a society that provides the opportunity for children to explore their talents, that supports their abilities, that encourages equality for girls and boys, that teaches them to care about each other and wider society, that is politically engaged, and where everyone is able to participate in everything that it means to be human.

By Merridee Bailey and Katie Barclay

[1] International Labour Organisation Figures.


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