This edited collection, Affective intimacies, provides a novel platform for re-evaluating the notion of open-ended intimacies through the lens of affect theories. Thus, this collection is not about affect and intimacy, but affective intimacies. Instead of foregrounding certain predefined categories of affects or intimacies, the book focuses on processes, entanglements and encounters between humans as well as between human and non-human bodies that provide key signposts for grasping of affective intimacies. Throughout, Affective intimacies addresses the embodied, affective and psychic aspects of intimate entanglements across various timely phenomena. Rather than assuming that we could parse affective intimacies in a pre-defined way, the collection asks how the study of affect enables us to rethink intimacies, what affect theories can do to the prevailing notion of intimacy and how they renew and enrich theories of intimacy. Affective intimacies brings together a selection of original chapters which invite readers to follow and reconsider affective intimacies as they unfold in the happenings of everyday lives and in their mobile, affective and more-than-human intricate predicaments. In this manner, the edited collection makes a valuable contribution to the social sciences and humanities which have yet to recognise and utilise the potential to imagine affective intimacies in alternative ways, without starting from the already familiar terrains, theories and conceptualisations. By so doing, it advances the value of interdisciplinary perspectives and creative methodologies in thinking in terms of affective intimacies.
Closeness and distance in LGBTQ+ women’s relationships
The chapter explores the significance of gender in LGBTQ+ women’s relationships. It begins with an observation of the closeness and easiness of certain LGBTQ+ women’s relationships, while others struggle with unequal approaches to sharing childcare and domestic responsibilities in ways that strikingly resemble the gendered conventions of heterosexual relationships. Arguing that the framework of gendered conventions is limited, I analyse gender as becoming in and through affective assemblages. The chapter thus shifts the focus from the human-centred paradigm that would approach gender as an identity that ‘belongs to a person’, to a more nuanced approach where multiple elements and affective intimacies of a gender assemblage can be identified. For the purposes of the chapter, I analyse two data sets: interviews with LGBTQ+ women who have experienced a recent relationship break-up, and a longitudinal set of interviews with bisexual women and their variously gendered (ex)partners. My analysis shows how the accumulating affective intimacies of a gender assemblage, which are a co-constitution of many elements – e.g. sexual desire, cultural norms and ideas about gender, (shared) interests, events and material spaces – have an ability to bring certain gendered bodies closer to one another while pushing others away from one another. The chapter also shows how equalities and inequalities emerge in temporally shifting ways in LGBTQ+ women’s gender assemblages and how this is entangled with closeness and distance in their relationships.
Non-binary youth and affective (re)orientations to family
In this chapter, I analyse the experiences of gender non-binary individuals using the web of affects and obligations experienced within the family. I seek to show how the ordinariness of family intimacy is transformed when it encounters transgender non-binary lives. Building on research on the everyday lives of gender and/or sexual non-binary people conducted from 2015 to 2019, I present case studies of four gender non-binary individuals and their stories of ‘journeying away from’ – and sometimes back to – family intimacy that failed to deliver on its promises. By analysing four case studies of non-binary individuals and their stories of negative family reactions to the disclosure of their gender identity, I seek to capture the messiness of family intimacy as it unfolds through the affective orientations of family members. This analysis builds on Ahmed’s work on emotions and affective orientation and Bourdieu’s work on the conceptual pairing of affective obligations – obliged affects. Transgender participants tell their stories of silencing, rejection and neglect, and of being affected by the promise of family as a happy object. Namely, they tell the stories of subtle and more forceful affective mechanisms of shame, guilt and responsibility for upholding the fiction of family as an unconditional, intimate and haven-like relationship, and show how one can be affected by the promise of family as a happy object.
In this chapter, I examine the development of the idea of a lesbian in Tampere, Finland by utilising accounts from oral history interviews regarding two different lesbian and gay party venues run by the local lesbian and gay organisation Vagabondi from 1977 to 1988. While concentrating on an embodied and collective circulation of affects I maintain that women who visited the parties were affected not only by the gender composition of the events, but, quite importantly, also by their material entanglements. By coining the term lesboratory for the apparatus of entangled material and social intra-actions, I draw attention to the productive and affective role of materiality in creating the idea of a lesbian. I maintain that the materiality of these two different party venues provided not only the preconditions for bodily encounters, but they also significantly co-constituted and informed the self-understanding of the participating guests. Hence, by demonstrating how the different venues were actively and intimately participating in the production of meaning and the forming of what was an emerging idea of a lesbian, the chapter participates in the ongoing discussions regarding affective and spatial turns in analysing the past and argues for the importance of combining the two.
A love story of queer intimacies between (her) body and object (her cigarette)
Dresda E. Méndez de la Brena
In what way do ‘things matter’ to the lives of chronically ill and disabled individuals? What kinds of ‘care arrangements’ do they enter into and make with the material world so they can live as well as possible? This chapter offers an intimate exploration of how objects come to matter within disability worlds, and the role they play in different care-making practices and various forms of love production. Against the background of the love story of caring for my partner, who is narcoleptic and a heavy smoker, this chapter introduces the concept of ‘caring matter’, through which I theorise queer intimacies between disabled persons and objects. Building on an auto-phenomenographic exploration of my autobiographical writing, poetry and photography, I explore the ‘intimate act of love’ framed in the smoking-and-breathing encounter between my partner and her cigarette. In the conclusion, I summarise my reflections on ‘caring matter’, and the ways that matter can show us how non-human care ‘works’ when human-provided care is absent or insufficient. Ultimately, I ask for critical thinking on smoking from the perspective of feminist intersectionality and disability studies.
The discomforts of empathy as white feminist affect
As important as empathy is to building the intimate-political assemblages of feminist solidarity, it is often perilous across the divisions of race. The capacity to empathise – long celebrated in Anglo-American feminism – no longer appears as such a straightforward ethical or epistemic virtue when read through the lens of post-colonial and critical race theory. A fortiori, it loses something of its secure tenure as a feminist virtue. This chapter diagnoses a specific form of ‘empathy trouble’ that haunts the feminist consciousness of white-settler societies under the pressure of this critical reappraisal. It explores why ambivalence accompanies the efforts of the white feminist subject who, on one hand, wants to maintain her empathetic identifications with the victims of racial oppression, yet, on the other, must divest herself of wilful ignorance regarding the potential for white women’s empathy to enact racial privilege, ‘white innocence’ and the affective intimacies of colonisation.
In this chapter, we analyse a discussion thread on regretting motherhood on an anonymous Finnish online discussion board. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s work on affect and figures, we analyse how the figure of a mother experiencing regret is affectively constituted in the digital intimate public. We analyse what kind of affect was mobilised and attached to mothers who confessed unhappiness, exhaustion and regret related to their maternal role and how the mothers were invited to attune their feelings, attitudes and behaviours. Negative affective orientations, characterised by perceiving regret as a sign of mothers’ weak or damaged agency, circulated neoliberal rationalities and sensibilities of individual responsibility, self-sufficiency and resilience. However, there were more ambivalent and caring responses aimed at (re)orientating the attention to societal circumstances, inequalities and impossible standards of (good) motherhood and providing empathy and support. These (re)orientations often contained registers of irony, and points of resistance to individualising scripts were also revealed non-verbally through upvotes and downvotes on comments. Our analysis contributes to discussions on the insinuation of therapeutic culture and neoliberal sensibilities in intimate lives and mothering ideals. However, simultaneously, the ambivalence, contradictions and resistance show that even as normative notions of intimacy are challenged, motherhood is also a fragile terrain on which to combat power relations and act politically outside the intimate public.
This chapter investigates teletherapies, aiming to produce novel insights into how human well-being is co-constituted with technological infrastructures. Drawing upon a study of the diverse practices of remote therapy and counselling in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it explores the ways in which Finnish psychotherapists and other counselling professionals experienced the shift to teletherapies. I suggest that technological infrastructures condition and shape the affective processes of support-seeking and support-giving. In particular, I tap into the question of how intimacy comes to matter in teletherapy practices. The chapter thus traces the ways in which intimacy is being made and unmade, of and with multiple entangled materialities, thus enriching our understanding of affective intimacies by stressing how intimacy is co-constituted by several dynamic processes that have capacities to affect and become affected. Analysing the interviews through the lens of intra-action, I discuss both the capacities to bring close and the capacities to distance that are facilitated by teletherapy practices. The chapter concludes that the distancing capacities are not distinct from those capacities that generate the feelings of proximity. Rather they both exemplify the distributed agencies of entangled materialities. Further, my study highlights that in mental care agency is distributed across various human and non-human actors: from professionals and clients to therapy venues, from psychic conditions to legislation, from technological equipment and software apps to economic factors.
The introduction of Affective intimacies lays out a novel terrain for rethinking intimacies through the lens of affect theories. The questions posed at the outset are set to promote an inquiry into the ways affect studies enrich contemporary theorisations of intimacy. Affective intimacies thus makes an effort to renew the prevailing scholarship and the imaginings of affective intimacies. By doing so, it points to an interdisciplinary lacuna and argues that the social sciences and humanities have yet to recognise affect and intimacy as conjoined processes. More specifically, it is suggested that instead of foregrounding affects and intimacies as pre-defined categories, scholarship would benefit from seeing affect and intimacy as entangled and meshed together. This line of inquiry includes encounters between humans as well as between human and non-human bodies. It thus provides key signposts for comprehending affective intimacies in new ways. The open-ended use of intimacy offers a situated analysis of affective intimacies. From this vantage point, proximity and closeness are not neutral practices but can be imbued with power. Rather than pointing to intimacy as an always positive and desirable closeness, the affective prism prompts us to consider new perspectives on the intimate as it is sensed, lived and entangled across human and non-human bodies. Lastly, the introduction closes with presenting the three sections of the book: the importance of re-imagining affective intimacies, the politics of affect and the queering of intimacies.
Affective experiences of female same-sex intimacies in contemporary China
This chapter, developed from an anthropological study, analyses female same-sex affective intimacies in contemporary China. Applying the feminist new-materialist theory of ‘nomadic subjectivity’, and through embodied perspectives for understanding bodies, I find that, although Chinese same-sex attracted women often encounter a lack of ‘proper’ language for expressing love and describing sexual practices, this very ‘lack’ enables us to observe, think and feel the ‘becoming’ of the intimacies experienced by female, non-heteronormative, global South, post-traditional and post-colonial subjects, and the ‘becoming’ of these subjects themselves, beyond the limitations of the standard usage of authoritative languages. By theorising ‘(first) love without articulation’ and ‘penetration’, I argue that becoming a women-loving woman in contemporary China is a collective, trans-subjective process, and Chinese women-loving women understand and practise love through non-consistent, non-linear journeys. The embodied emotions and memories of these women grow beyond explicit verbal expressions, defying the heteronormative discourses about ‘aiqing/love’ in China’s wider society. I also argue that the heterosexual and phallocentric idea(l)s of penetrative sex have profoundly influenced female same-sex sexual practices and caused Chinese women trauma and shame in different contexts. Nevertheless, I call for the re-appropriation and re-definition of heteronormative notions and terms, such as ‘penetration’, through lenses that are sensitive to embodiment, in order to better portray the inter-corporeal entanglements in sexual experiences that are often unspeakable or unspoken, and better sense and express the diverse affective forces that (re)shape feelings about intimacy.