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.
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.
How is collective intimacy built through commonalities of feeling precarious? The way in which certain forms of intimacy emerge in contexts of precarity and austerity policies is central to the political possibilities of affect in the everyday. In this chapter, I explore gendered embodiments of austerity and the affective dynamics of intimacy in a group of female neighbours who face exhaustion in their efforts to reproduce the everyday labour of life under the restrictions of low income in urban austerity Greece. In particular, I explore how intimacy between them is animated by feelings and interpretations of the austerity experience and show that it corresponds to relations of both solidarity and antagonism and is linked to the local institution of the conjugal household, the ‘noikokyrio’.
As a result of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic, in 2020 forensic institutions in Mexico began using extreme measures in the treatment of bodies of confirmed or suspected cases, due to possible infection. A series of national protocols on how to deal with the virus were announced, yet forensic personnel have struggled to apply these, demonstrating the country’s forensics crisis. This article aims to reflect on two points: (1) the impact that COVID-19 protocols have had on how bodies confirmed as or suspected of being infected with the virus are handled in the forensic medical system; and (2) the particular treatment in cases where the body of the victim is unidentified, and the different effects the pandemic has had in terms of the relationship between the institutional environment and the family members of those who have died as a result of infection, or suspected infection, from COVID-19.
When drone footage emerged of New York City’s COVID-19 casualties being buried by inmates in trenches on Hart Island, the images became a key symbol for the pandemic: the suddenly soaring death toll, authorities’ struggle to deal with overwhelming mortality and widespread fear of anonymous, isolated death. The images shocked New Yorkers, most of whom were unaware of Hart Island, though its cemetery operations are largely unchanged since it opened over 150 years ago, and about one million New Yorkers are buried there. How does Hart Island slip in and out of public knowledge for New Yorkers in a cycle of remembering and forgetting – and why is its rediscovery shocking? Perhaps the pandemic, understood as a spectacular event, reveals what has been there, though unrecognised, all along.
Based on the anthropological classification of death into ‘good deaths’, ‘beautiful deaths’ and ‘evil deaths’, and using the methodology of screen ethnography, this article focuses on mourning in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the extreme cases of deaths in Manaus and among the Yanomami people. The article ‘follows the virus’, from its first role in a death in the country, that of a domestic worker, to hurriedly dug mass graveyards. I consider how the treatment of bodies in the epidemiological context sheds light on the meanings of separation by death when mourning rituals are not performed according to prevailing cultural imperatives. Parallels are drawn with other moments of sudden deaths and the absence of bodies, as during the South American dictatorships, when many victims were declared ‘missing’. To conclude, the article focuses on new funerary rituals, such as Zoom funerals and online support groups, created to overcome the impossibility of mourning as had been practised in the pre-pandemic world.