Digital media and emotions research trip to Berlin

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the conference, Public Emotions: Affective Collectivity in Audiences, at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Here’s the conference blurb: 

Political speeches, theatre performances, television shows, Facebook entries, music concerts, sports events, Instagram posts, religious ceremonies, court trials – these heterogeneous and in many aspects incomparable social and cultural phenomena have one thing in common: they address, require and constitute audiences. The conference “Public Emotions. Affective Collectivity in Audiences” discusses contemporary forms and activities of audiences and explores their changing roles in today’s mobile, mediatized and networked societies. As audiences are a collective phenomenon, the conference highlights collective forms of actions and emotions, and their entanglement. Our special attention is drawn to the specific agency of audiences, and to the role of affects and emotions in audiences – especially within forms of affective collectivity.

I attended the conference in the days after presenting my work at Humboldt University’s wonderful and welcoming Media and Digital Anthropology Lab, led by Prof. Dr. Christoph Bareither. It was a great trip that gave me a wealth of great feedback on my own work, as well as introducing me to a variety of the very latest work being done on digital media and emotions, by researchers coming from (feminist) media studies perspectives and ethnographic approaches. I very much enjoyed the presentation by Margreth Lünenborg and Tanja Maier on affective audiences of reality television, based on the close study of audience reactions to watching the reality TV shows in their homes and in local bars. With their interesting notion of “affective practices,” the two showed how the detailed observation of home audiences reveals verbal and physical responses that are both evidently spontaneous, contagious, and unexpected but at the same time aligned with socialized (gendered) affective repertoires that teach audiences how to properly perform emotions.

More than anything, this experience in Berlin brought back and refined conceptual and methodological questions and struggles I remember I had early on in this project. These include fundamental issues of how to define the very object of study in research focused on the digital mediation of affect and emotion. As I enter the process of making sense of the ethnographic data from my research case in Istanbul, I find myself coming back to matters of how to interpret the data I have gathered on my respondent’s media practices. How exactly do I interpret data on media practices in emotional terms? But also, how do I glean emotional resonances from notes, recordings, photos, and memories of time spent with my respondents in Istanbul? In the phase of analysis and writing I’m currently at, these questions are raised with new urgency as I continue to try to empirically and conceptually grasp such seemingly ungraspable things as mediation, affect, and emotion.

While my main interest in the paper I’m working on – and presented for feedback in Berlin – is the emotional dimension of transnational intimate relationships (mainly within the family), I notice increasingly that these dynamics must be understood in important relation to a backdrop of intensely politicized and public emotions in both the Dutch and Turkish current contexts. Especially as social media come to mediate significant new forms of audience formation processes and emotional assemblages, the question of how digitally mediated intimacy is experienced in the context of networked, always-on digital media publics becomes increasingly interesting to me. All in all, this trip to Humboldt and the Freie Universität, and meeting the inspiring media scholars there, have been a timely and encouraging push towards refining my ideas and analyses on the digital mediation of transnational emotional intimacies in this challenging but rewarding research phase.