Affect & Emotions: A Democratic Asset?

Laura Vibeke Friis Nielsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis sets out to investigate the role of affect in democratic organizing. My interest is driven by the recent election of Donald Trump as the President of the USA, and Great Britain's choice to leave the EU. In both cases it appears that voters based their decisions on what they felt was right, rather than relying on experts, statistics or facts. This has revitalized the discussion of what role affect and emotions play, and ought to play, in modern democracies. The discursive output hereof has so far been expressions such as alternative facts, post factual society and post-truth.
On one hand affect and emotions are being articulated as irrational and dangerous to democracy. Meanwhile they are also being articulated as an asset to democracy, as well as something that is impossible to exclude from the political sphere. This thesis investigates the latter, and explores how affect is being articulated as a central force in political mobilization of citizens. It will also be discussed how this challenges a classical understanding of democracy as a process of rational, consensus-seeking dialogue stripped of emotional arguments.
Through the analytical framework of Ernesto Laclau’s theory on discursivity and discourses, this thesis shows how affect and democracy are linked discursively through three different perspectives: 1) The perspective of theorists who form part of the so-called affective turn. 2) the perspective of the strategy for organizing civil society called community organizing, and 3) the perspective of Laclau himself, where he claims that affect, democracy and populist reason are inseparable components. Finally, it will be discussed how one can distinguish between democratic and undemocratic movements, if neither the use of emotions or populist reason is disqualifying for democratic organizations.
The contribution of this thesis is to challenge the perception of affect and emotions as something that conflicts with democratic values, and to initiate a discussion of the circumstances, under which affect and emotions could be taken into use by democratic organizations.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages104
SupervisorsNiels Åkerstrøm Andersen & Christian Borch