Panel 4

IV. Affective Dynamics in Cultural Encounters and Conflicts
Chair: Arkaitz Ibarretxe Diego, Spanish and Portuguese, UIUC 

This panel will explore how different modes of affective exchange, transmission or containment shape publicness in the context of global human mobility and new, virtual and physical networks. On one hand, we analyze the emergence of new transnational, affective networks that take advantage of the new potentialities provided by networked communication technologies. On the other hand, we discuss the return of belligerent nationalisms and other exclusionary forms of political movements that resist global mobility and migration of bodies, languages, and customs. We will inquire whether it is possible to speak of a democratic affectivity of being in common that could be distinguished from other types of collectivity that undermine the very idea of commonality. Our focus on affective exchanges will reveal both the potentiality of affective encounters between different bodies, objects and places, and the static notions of collective identification and affective networks. The panel provides an analysis of these two, opposite modes of affective exchanges by discussing how affects and emotional responses to key events are shared in social media, and how political affects are mobilized in the processes of the constitution and disintegration of a political community.

Nicolas Portugal, French and Italian, UIUC
“From ‘Nous sommes tous Américains’ to ‘#JeSuisCharlie’: (Re)shaping communities through transnational and affective networks in the wake of a terrorist attack”

On September 13th, 2001, the French daily newspaper Le Monde headlined “Nous sommes tous américains” (We are all Americans) as a reaction to the 9/11 events to demonstrate French people’s solidarity with the American people.

After the terrorist attacks that targeted France in 2015, a substantial number of French intellectuals and journalists compared the events with the terrorist attacks that had hit the United States of America fourteen years before and labeled them a “French 9/11”. With the advancement of modern technology, the attacks generated messages of solidarity such as #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) and #PrayForParis, shared across various social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) However, the supportive message “Nous sommes tous américains” loses its collectiveness “nous/ we” in favor of the first-singular pronoun “Je/ I” in “Je suis Charlie”. This presentation investigates the representations of these new transnational, virtual and affective networks experienced in individualistic societies in the wake of a terrorist attack: how do they circulate on social media, and how do they participate in the creation/destruction of global political communities?

Tatjana Gajic, Hispanic and Italian Studies, University of Illinois-Chicago
“From Civil War to Civic Protest: Greek Stasis Today”

This presentation discusses the political relevance of the ancient Greek notion of stasis in which the phenomena of movement and immobility, two concepts that inform the theme of this conference, function not as opposites but as indissociably linked. Contrary to the Latin meaning of stasis that signifies the absence of movement, the broad semantic field of stasis in the ancient Greek applied to a number of contexts, from politics and law to medicine and navigation, in which movement and immobility, restlessness and stoppage coincided, appeared simultaneously. The etymology of stasis, which derives from the verb histemi–to stand up or assume a vertical position—helps explain why ancient Greeks would give the name of stasis to civil war, a moment in which one group or faction stands up in opposition to others and inaugurates a confrontation that brings unrest into the polis.

Contemporary interpretations of stasis underscore the originality of the Greek conception of politics, which viewed internal strife not just as a supreme political evil, but as a trying and dramatic form of common engagement in the affairs of the polis. Not in vain did Greeks proclaim a law that prohibited neutrality during the civil war. As the political theorist Dimitris Vardulakis has argued, the thought of stasis entails an ontological conception of politics for which Being is understood as “being with.” This presentation examines a renewed interest in the concepts of stasis and civil war in the context of varied forms of civil uprisings that include the global wave of protests in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and the more recent acts of resistance to the perceived or real curtailing of individual freedoms during the Covid pandemic. Commenting on the spectacle of multitudes that celebrated the suspension of the pandemic “estado de alarma” in Spain, the philosopher Santiago Alba Rico examined the strange juissance of multitudes that celebrated individual freedoms unmoored from any sense of democratic collectivity. The question, then, is how to relate the notion of stasis to the context marked both by the renewal of the civic potential of democracy and the signs of its twilight.

Heather Woods, Communication Studies, Kansas State University
“Creating and shattering (democratic) worlds: the affective circulation of modern meme culture”

From the interiority of the individual group chat to the public Twitter feed of the President of the United States, memes are central to the modern cultural moment. Memes are collectively authored texts which draw together fragments of culture to create a novel iteration of public discourse. They help people communicate; identify the boundaries between self and Other; organize ideas and collectives; engage in politics and much more. They are particularly effective communicative vehicles because they traffic in affect, harnessing the power of humor, derision, and even hatred to slingshot ideas across the digital network. Memes were once understood as small pieces of cultural code that replicated virulently in primarily visual formats. As digital culture has evolved, so too have memes. 


In their evolution, memes have come to serve as the connective tissue of networked communities, stitching together cultural contexts and discourses across both digital and ideological platforms. This collectivizing feature of memes creates potential for affiliation across difference, which may in turn support a democratic politic. At the same time, however, memes have created an opportunity for reactionary and nationalist actors to manifest a regressive social movement that is as far reaching as it is effective. This presentation examines memes as a technology of both ideological mobility and political re-entrenchment. Building on insights from the speaker’s book, “Make America Meme Again: The Rhetoric of the Alt-Right,” this talk positions memes as affective vehicles of public condensation and dissolution, creating opportunities for democratic action or for resistance of democratic norms.