Patricia Clough’s The Affective Turn

Clough, Patricia Ticineto, and Jean O’Malley Halley. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.


Paraphrasing Spinoza, Michael Hardt states that  “the mind’s power to think corresponds to its receptivity to external ideas; and the body’s power to act corresponds to its sensitivity to other bodies”

the term affective labor is meant to…grasp simultaneously the corporeal and intellectual aspects of the new forms of production, recognizing that such labor engages at once with rational intelligence and with the passions or feeling (xi).

Affective labor allows us to “consider [affective labor] together with the various other forms of labor whose products are in large part immaterial, that is, to think together the production of affects with the production of code, information, ideas, images and the like” (xii).


Clough is clear that the affect turn is linked to “the production of multiple subjectivities and multiple modernities expressed in new forms of history, often presented at first in autobiographical experimental writings by diasporic subjects. As she says:

The affective turn throws thought back to the disavowals constitutive of Western industrial capitalist societies, bringing forth ghosted bodies and the traumatized remains of erased histories. It also sends thought to the future—to the bodily matter and biotechnoscientific experimentation (3).

These experimental forms of writing render the traumatic effect of the long exclusion from writing, which haunts the writing as a motive force. These writings are traumatizing as they call into question the truth of representation, the certainty of memory, if not the very possibility of knowledge of the past” (6).  Clough expands upon what Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, in their edited volume The Shell and the Kernal: Renewals of Psychoanalysis, call “trangenerational haunting,” where the “forgetting of trauma is passed down from one generation to another, mesmerizing multiple egos, putting all in a transgenerational bodily trance” (7). The haunting of a lost or forgotten trauma, one deracinated from a history across groups of inter-related generations, Jacqueline Rose sees as potentially “creating a monstrous family of reluctant belonging” (qtd. in Clough 7).

A family of reluctant belonging is still thus a family, monstrous as it might be named, but a community of similarly affected subjects who find shared subjective states found in a collapsed notion of time, where the future becomes only a constant reliving of an inescapable and unknowable past, a pathological state of entanglement with the lost object. Clough takes Deleuze’s concept of “the crack” from his book The Logic of Sense to rethink memory, image, time and trauma beyond the collapsing of time, where the crack in time is “a potential for swerving in terms of inheritance, the potential for swerving to the future” (13). There is no “overcoming” of the present because the past, as an unknowable and lost “lack” entangled with the ego, is ontologically among the present, and “is not even past,” as Faulkner has said. Clough compares this feeling with Lacan’s imaginary state, where “it is unclear whether one is in the past or the present, resulting in a haunting in time” (14).

Finally, Clough takes up Negri’s “Value and Affect” essay, where Negri emphasizes the new forms of migration and labor due to a phenomenon of affective labor, where “labor finds its value in affect, if affect is defined as ‘the power to act’” (79). Affective labor—the immaterial labor of the service industry, of housemaids, nannies, sex workers—emphasizes the value placed on dispositions of the worker, on the moods and affective capacities of the worker, such that the “use value of labor cannot be measured” (24). This immeasurability of affective capacity leaves room for what Clough calls a

worldwide meshing of biopolitics with an affective economy. There is a marking of populations—some as valuable life and others as without value. Increasingly it is in these terms that differences such as those of ethnicity, race, gender, class, sexuality, and nation become materialized. Some bodies or bodily capacities are derogated, making their affectivity superexploitable or exhaustable unto death (25).

The trend of migrant affective labor coming out of the third world, specifically in Southeast Asia, in the form of domestic and service labor in global cities of the first world, makes the union of an affective economy and biopolitics an especially prescient global phenomenon. Furthermore, regimes of the affect are also exported from the first world to the third, sometimes in the form of social management and human rights work that emphasizes “empowerment” rather than material access to public goods.

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