‘The affective atmospheres of nationalism’
Dr Angharad Closs Stephens
Lecturer in Human Geography, Durham University
Author of The Persistence of Nationalism: from imagined communities to urban encounters (London, New York: Routledge, 2013) (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415623452/)
What would it mean to understand nationalism as an atmosphere? This presentation will examine how nationalism operates affectively and atmospherically through a discussion of the event of the London 2012 Olympic Games. More specifically, it will address the ‘happy atmospheres’ of being together that circulated in the course of those Games and ask how was it that so many people appeared to get swept along by nationalist discourses, affects and practices. I will point to different ways in which thinking about nationalism as an ‘affective atmosphere’ can build upon the notion of ‘everyday nationalism’ (Billig, 1995) and also take it further. For example, I will argue that the idea of an ‘affective atmosphere’ invites an attentiveness to the different tonalities and intensities of nationality. It also shifts the primary focus from a subject identity or bounded community to the question of how affective forces congeal around particular objects and bodies and echo as part of an assemblage. Overall, I will argue that addressing the nation’s affective, emotional and atmospheric resonances is critical for understanding how nationalism endures, and furthermore, how it appears especially difficult to critique. I also seek to make a contribution to broader debates around the relationship between affect, atmosphere and politics by asking how national affective atmospheres might be resisted and how we might recover alternative understandings of being with others.