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Affective societies, affected scientists! 5 Questions to Bilgin Ayata, Cilja Harders, Ricarda Ameling, bahar fırat and Idil Deniz Sakar

After eight years of intensive research, the project collaboration of team C01 with their current research on “Emotion and Affect within the Context of Authoritarian Transformations” within the CRC Affective Societies ends this summer. As a small farewell, they have given us answers to our “5 Questions…” series.

News vom 13.09.2023

1.) Which research question affects you at the moment? What is its social significance?

Bilgin Ayata: My current research centers on the question of borders and bordering practices, where the rapid militarization and criminalization is consolidating the normalization of racialized violence at the border. For instance, the recent ship wreck in Greece resulted in the drowning of an estimated 500 persons, women and children at the shores of Europe. There are quite different reactions towards these routinized instances of border violence, it ranges from indifference, hatred, disinterest to despair. My research team carries out fieldwork in Greece, Tunisia, and Canary Islands to understand how the war against migration in these border zones transforms social relations on the ground and turns them into zones of stress and strain. 

2.) Can you think of an emotion whose relevance has recently surprised you?

Bilgin Ayata: The elections in Turkey were quite interesting recently, where the upsurge of hope short before the elections was so palpable in the opposition that even the most skeptical observers believed for a moment in the possibility of change. This is a repetitive dynamic that we have observed in our research project, where short before elections a wave of hope mobilizes the masses and has resulted in a voter turnout of 93% which is really astonishing. Compare this to the elections in neighboring Greece, where the voter turnout was only 53%. At the beginning of the count, the opposition leader was ahead and from the moment onwards, when Erdogan started to lead, the entire atmosphere of hope vanished as if it had never been there. Even though this up and down of strong emotions of hope and hopelessness is very exhausting (one could read on social media comments such as “they are playing with our emotions”) and one would assume that it would not reoccur in the next elections, we can see this upsurge and igniting of hope before every election since the Gezi Protests. Even though many do not believe that the current regime will be disempowered via elections, the voter turnout reached record highs. We could say that the hope for change makes the act of voting an instance of cruel optimism, as Lauren Berlant aptly coined it. In Greece, where just like in Turkey the extreme right became very strong in these elections, it seems that there is not even much hope left among the youth and the opposition to go to the ballots anymore. Not sure which is worse. 

Cilja Harders: Two points come to my mind. For one, I am impressed and astonished to see how productive it is to merge “comparison” – Greece and Turkey in Bilgins example or Egypt and Turkey in our research project – with looking into affect and emotion. The other issue I am thinking about is a sort of societal “long-covid syndrome” which is only getting more tangible now. We still do not know much about the mid- to long-term impacts of the pandemic and its extreme intervention into our social life, our capacities to relate to other and the public feelings which are connected to the pandemic afterlife. 

3.) Do you perceive any affective driving force or affective barrier concerning your research work?

Ricarda Ameling: Definitely both, but unfortunately the affective barrier of disenchantment with my current research object (the Egyptian president Sisi) was dominant for a majority of time. Usually it helped to discuss the topic with friends and colleagues to share concern, sadness, hopelessness and frustration about the situation in Egypt and the anger about the political elite there, but also EU and German politics supporting Sisi as their “partner” across the Mediterranean. 

Eventually, developing a certain stubbornness while dealing extensively with one particular authoritarian leader and his rhetoric is also a way to lay bare and strip down a political strategy and grim reality. This could be seen as an affective driving force, hoping it might help understanding the different facets of authoritarian leadership. 

bahar fırat: It has been quite challenging for me to work on authoritarianism in contemporary Turkey, in several ways. The effort to maintain a distance to my research topic did not always bear fruit, since, as the saying goes, “de te fabula narratur”. My work has been accompanied by a continuous tide of strong emotions: yearning and grief for what has been lost and solicitude for what is to come in your country, while trying to start from scratch in your new home, confidently and yet prudent. 

There have been times, when I felt that I just couldn’t engage any further with the material. It was repellant, making me feel alienated, nauseated, offended, and eventually blocked. Then again, it was appealing to ‘accept the challenge’, and delve deeper to comprehend the appeal of (Turkish/Erdoğanist) authoritarianism, as it is not eccentric or anomalous, but a rampant political phenomenon of current times. I was lucky enough, to enjoy the companionship of feminist colleagues, who not only cherished the progress in my work, but also shared my burden of working on a demanding topic. 

4.) Which book has lately affected you the most?

bahar fırat: Carel Bertram’s A House in the Homeland: Armenian Pilgrimages to Places of Ancestral Memory. It is a moving ethnographic study, in which Bertram impressively tells the story of descendants of the Armenian genocide whom she accompanied in their pilgrimages from the USA to their ancestral villages in Anatolia, Turkey. Testimonies and agencies of and about mass violence, memory, trauma, and sacred spaces, eventually draw a powerful picture of the emotional weight of home/ homelessness.  

Bilgin Ayata: I recently read the novel Geschichte eines Kindes by Anna Kim which is a powerful story on the obsession with racial categorization and racism both in the past and present. The story begins in the US during segregation but then comes back to Europe, addressing race research conducted at universities. Given the history of race research in the Ihnestraße 21 which I engaged with extensively during my time at the FU, this novel affected me on many different registers. But if the question related more to an academic book, I would have to say Karen Barad who I am rereading these days. Their thinking and writing move me every time anew. 

Cilja Harders: The graphic novel Der Duft der Kiefern by Bianca Schaalburg which tells the story of a family in Berlin Zehlendorf throughout the last 80 years. It focuses on the historical silences which are transmitted in many families who were perpetrators and sometimes victims in the NS-time and how these silences can be and should be unearthed. Its visuals are beautiful, and the text is sharp and touching. The book tells the story of war, racism, antisemitism, resistance, and dictatorship in a very personal, localized and yet general way. 

Idil Deniz Sakar: I have recently read Precarious Life. The Power of Mourning and Violence by Judith Butler and I am taking a lot of inspiration from it. This book has had a significant presence in my life since I first encountered it in Istanbul back in 2015. It was during a mesmerizing dance performance titled “Biz (we)“ by Bedirhan Dehmen which drew inspiration from Butler’s work. The dancers engaged with the question “What makes a life grievable?“ through the language of movement. One particular quote from the performance’s flyer deeply resonated with me: “To the losses we couldn’t mourn and to the ones we couldn’t bid farewell with love.“ I had this quote on my wall for years. It took me eight years after seeing the performance to feel ready for reading the book and it was definitely worth the wait.

5.) From which feelings or sentiments would you rather refrain at the moment?

Ricarda Ameling: I would much rather refrain from feeling pessimistic and exhausted when looking at the state of political affairs – worldwide and in Germany.

Bilgin Ayata: After eight years growing together in the CRC, at this moment I would like to refrain from the feeling of sadness that everything has an end, even project C01 and our participation at the CRC and instead nourish and cherish the many good memories, experiences and intellectual companionship of this journey! Way to go, dear Affectives, keep it rolling! 

Idil Deniz Sakar: I would refrain from numbness. Feelings are my fuel for taking action, moving and reacting. Unfortunately, the world gets so overwhelming sometimes that I tend to get numb.

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  • Affected Scientists, Politik und Affekt, Researchers' Affects