Emotions are one of the most powerful forces in history and culture. At the same time they are one of the most difficult to get at. When the Humanities and Social Sciences first turned to emotions in the late 1930s, they viewed them as culturally universal and timeless. For example, Norbert Elias in his The Civilizing Process (1939) presents modernity as a process of affect control, but does not allow for an understanding of affect as a constructed category that changes over time. Likewise for Lucien Febvre the emotions had a place in history and therefore deserved a place in historiography, but they had no history (see his famous article “Sensibility and History: How to Reconstitute the Emotional Life of the Past,” 1941; “La sensibilité et l’histoire. Comment reconstituer la vie affective d’autrefois”). This universalist paradigm was challenged during the 1970s when American anthropologists began uncovering an enormous variety of emotional expression in different cultures. Catherine Lutz in Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory (1988) showed how Ifaluk males cried profusely—not as an expression of grief, but rather as a means of marking status difference: the higher up in the social hierarchy his interlocutor, the more tears an Ifaluk shed. Lutz concluded, “emotional experience is not precultural but preeminently cultural” (p. 5). In the late 1980s another paradigm change was ushered in. The findings of such experiment-based life sciences as neurobiology and cognitive psychology began casting doubt on the social constructionist, cultural relativist approach that had been dominant during the preceding decade. The life sciences inspired a revival of universalism that left few questions of the Humanities untouched—free will and memory, to name two. Over the past few years, the initial enthusiasm about the applicability of the life sciences in the Humanities has given way to a more sober attitude. William Reddy in The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (2001) provides a synthetic approach that joins the findings of constructionist anthropology and the universalist life sciences and on this basis develops the most elaborate theory of a history of the emotions that we have to date.
Humanities research on emotions now is in full swing; some have identified an “emotional turn.” This emotional turn is just beginning to reach Russian studies. The aim of our joint French-German-Russian conference is to bring together works-in-progress on emotions in Russian history and culture, to invite rereadings from an emotions perspective, and to spawn new research in this exciting new field. We deliberately encourage submissions on all periods of history. The geographic focus of the conference is a broadly conceived geographic-cultural space of the former Soviet Union.
The following is a—by no means exhaustive—list of issues papers might touch upon:
- Cultural representations of emotions. How did cultural products (from literature, theater, film, visual arts, music, and others) represent emotions? What was the relationship between these representations and the construction of emotions in other fields, such as the sciences (psychology, medicine)? How did translation and cultural transfer (e.g. with Western Europe) impact Russian representations of emotions? And what was Russia’s contribution to cultural representations of emotions in other countries?
- Emotional response to cultural products. What kinds of emotional responses did cultural products elicit in cultural consumers? Which strategies did writers and others employ in order to induce the emotional reactions they intended? What, in short, can be gained from factoring emotions into cultural reception, such as the sociology of reading?
- Genealogies of emotions. Many emotions at some point were “silent” entities—physical rather than verbal, experienced rather than named. How was this silence broken? How, for instance, do we account for the fact that soldierly “fear” hardly entered the record of the War of 1812 but was all over memoirs and diaries surrounding the First World War?
- Emotions as objects of “scientific” disciplines. How did various disciplines (e.g. psychiatry, philosophy, ethnography) construct emotions as objects of scientific inquiry? How did scientific inquiry constitute emotions as “real” entities, how exactly—by means of which strategies, maneuvers, and operations—did sciences achieve the reification of emotions?
- Dispassionate passion: scientific discovery and emotions. Since the nineteenth century scientific research has presented itself as objective, value-free, and empirically grounded—in short, as being independent of emotions. At the same time and paradoxically, fervent passion for a field is seen as an unabashedly positive characteristic of the researcher. A close reading of purportedly objective scientific presentations or theories can reveal how emotions work their way back into the texts of science.
- Construction of communities around emotions. Many national, ethnic, gender, and religious communities maintain images of themselves as being united by distinct emotional styles or essential emotional qualities. Nineteenth-century Slavophiles, for example, viewed themselves as having more “soul” and being more emotional, and emotional in specific ways, than their Westernizing counterparts. What can be said about the identity construction of various communities via emotions? What was the role of distancing from purported antipodes, or, how did “the Other” figure in these identity constructions?
- Affect control and the “civilizing process.” If the thesis (pace Norbert Elias) that becoming modern means controlling one’s affects has some validity, what can Russia’s twisted path to modernity contribute to this story?
- Begriffsgeschichte of emotions. How can we describe diachronically the changing semantics of emotional concepts (e.g. khandra, toska, liubov’)? What can a causality-oriented history—a history with an interest in the “Why?” question—contribute to an explanation of the ruptures in this semantics?
- Emotional education. How do different socializing institutions—from families and friends to schools and the Party—instil distinct emotional norms? How do these emotional norms overlap and conflict with emotional norms instilled in other contexts, how, in short, do different “emotional regimes” (William Reddy) and “emotional communities” (Barbara Rosenwein) interact?
- Emotions and historical actions. How did emotions structure human actions, e.g. in a meeting of two heads of state or a battle during a war? How can we approach this question, given that emotions are often referred to obliquely or indirectly?
- Emotions and historical memory. Once it has turned into history, time—in its myriad man-made divisions, from “hours” to “epochs”—is often remembered by distinct emotional characteristics. For example, in official Soviet discourse of the 1930s the year 1935 stood for merriment (cf. Stalin’s dictum, “Life has become more joyous, comrades, life has become easier!”) while 1937 signified general angst and concrete fear of enemies. How do temporal units get ascribed emotional epithets? What consequences does this have? How, for instance, are generations constituted who remember the late Soviet Union as a time of emotional “warmth”? And what does “warmth” mean here?
The organizers have applied for funding at the Centre franco-russe en sciences humaines et sociales de Moscou (CFRSHS) and Deutsches Historisches Institut Moskau (DHI). Pending approval of this funding, the conference will take place on the premises of CFRSHS and DHI at Institut nauchnoi informatsii po obshchestvennym naukam Rossiiskaia Akademiia Nauk (INION RAN) in Moscow. The sponsoring institutions would cover the costs for travel and accommodation of all participants.
Conference date: 2-5 April 2008.
Abstracts in Russian or English (maximum length: 500 words) of the paper you intend to give should be sent to
Your abstract should include your email address and institutional affiliation, the title of your intended paper, and the abstract text. Deadline for submission of abstracts: 1 July 2007.
Notification of applicants: no later than September 2007.
Chosen participants will then be asked to submit article-length (at a maximum of 10,000 words) original papers in Russian or English no later than 1 February 2008. The papers will be precirculated among all participants so that there is ample time to read them before the conference.
The papers will be grouped in thematic panels. Paper presentations at the conference will be limited to 15 minutes. At each panel one conference participant will moderate and comment briefly on the papers. The working language of the conference is Russian—no translation services.
After the conference authors will rework their papers for publication in a volume to appear in 2009.
We are looking forward to reading your proposals!
- Marc Elie, Ph.D. (Centre franco-russe en sciences humaines et sociales de Moscou) (email@example.com)
- Jan Plamper, Ph.D. (University of Tübingen) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Prof. Dr. Schamma Schahadat (University of Tübingen) (email@example.com)
Centre franco-russe en sciences humaines et sociales de Moscou (CFRSHS)
Moscow, Russia Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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