Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.
Hungarian Camerawoman

The Cultural Politics of Emotion / Sara Ahmed + Petra Laszlo

Nov 30, 2018 - Tom Hatton

“… I may express my feelings: I may laugh, cry, or shake my head. Once this inside has got out, when I have expressed my feelings in this way then my feelings become yours, and you may respond to them. If you sympathise, then we might have ‘fellow feeling’ (Denzinn 1984: 148). If you don’t understand, we might feel alienated from each other. (Scheff 1994:3). The logic here is that I have feelings, which then move outwards towards objects and others, and which might then return to me. …”


Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004, [pg8-9]

For this post I will present some excerpts from Sara Ahmed’s book ‘The Cultural Politics of Emotion’. I discovered this text after making the project and it has begun to inform a new series. Her writing is extremely relevant to the discourse on, and the representation of otherness and also the transference of emotion between bodies, (to use her terminology). Just for the sake of clarity, the image-text juxtaposition is my own. These two images document a clash between migrants and police (and journalist Petra Laszlo) on the Hungarian / Serbian border in September 2015, prior to the construction of the border fence. Following this moment she tripped up at least one other person, a child running with her family. Laszlo was fired from her job but was later acquitted of a criminal act and imprisonment.

“Most of our ideas and tendencies are not developed by ourselves but come to us from without. How can they become a part of ourselves except by imposing themselves upon us? (Durkeim 1966:4) […] Durkeim considers the rise of emotions in crowds, suggesting that such ‘great movements’ of feeling, ‘do not originate’ in any one of the particular individual consciousnesses’ (Durkeim 1966:4) Here, the individual is no longer the origin of feeling; feeling itself comes from without. Durkeim’s later work on religion suggests that such feelings do not remain ‘without.’ As he notes: ‘This force must also penetrate us and organise itself within us; it thus becomes an integral part of our being and by that very fact this is elevated and magnified.’ (Durkeim 1976: 209) For Durkeim then, emotion is not what comes from the individual body, but is what holds or binds the social body together. (Collins 1990: 27)”


Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004, [pg 9]

Hunngarian Camerawoman 2

from Chapter 1: The Contingency of Pain. These passages specifically examine the dynamics of the representation of pain and suffering.


” … The ‘anger’ and ‘sadness’ the reader should feel when faced with the other’s pain is what allows the reader to enter into a relationship with the other, premised on generosity rather than indifference. The negative emotions of anger and sadness are evoked as the reader’s: the pain of other’s becomes ‘ours’, an appropriation that transforms and perhaps even neutralises their pain into our sadness. It is not so much that we are ‘with them’ by feeling sad; the apparently shared negative feelings do not position the reader and victim in a relation of equivalence, or what Elizabeth V. Spelman calls co-suffering. (Spelman 1997:65) ”




” … ‘Compassion, like other forms of caring, may also reinforce the very patterns of economic and political subordination responsible for such suffering.’  (Spelman 1997:7)




The  overrepresentation of pain of others is significant in that it fixes the other as the one who ‘has’ pain, and who can overcome that pain only when the western subject feels moved enough to give.’


Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004, [pg 21 – 22]