Workshop “Photography and Physicality” – METABODY Conferece, Madrid, 9 July

The Emotional Body project is growing up and spreading! The next activity will be the Workshop “Photography and Physicality”, that will take place at La Casa Encendida (Madrid) the next 9th July, as part of the activities related to the conference METABODY. You can see the full programme of workshops here (pages 8 and 9).

This is exciting news for several reasons.First,  I’m very happy to collaborate with METABODY, a 5 years project funded by the European Commission. Started in July 2013, this interdisciplinary project elaborates “critical study of cultural homogenisation, social control and global surveillance in Information Society and develop new technocultural paradigms that highlight embodied differentials”. They propose new ways to understand and experience the body (for example, challenging standard notions of “disability”) that I think are not only necessary but also brave.

Second, I will teach the workshop with my wonderful friend and colleague Leticia Fernandez-Fontecha, a PhD candidate at the University of Greenwich. Although each one will run her own part, there are many things in common between the two sessions, and we are working together in its preparation. Collaboration is always a pleasure, and with her is also funny!

Third, I’m really looking forward for this workshop because it’s not an academic activity. We won’t be the protagonists of the workshop: you’ll be. Both of them will be practical sessions where participants will have to use their bodies and think with them. Leticia’s workshop will explore the notion of childhood through photographs produced by artists such as Sally Mann or Lewis Carroll, as well as the pictures of the participants as children, and mine will examine the historical changes on emotional expressions through pictures of actors since 1840 to the present day. In both sessions, the participants will have to pose like the people in the pictures, and will have to use different cameras. The idea is that, through the embodiment of expressions mediated by photography, the participants will acquire knowledge of the changing meaning of the body, the emotions and childhood over time, and the impact that photographic practices have had on these changes.

I can’t wait!!!




CFP: Emotional Bodies. A Workshop on the Historical Performativity of Emotions

So happy to announce the Call for Papers for this exciting conference we’re organising in Geneva!!!


A Workshop on the Historical Performativity of Emotions

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The idea that the body is the site in which emotions are expressed is an old one in Western Culture. We manifest fear through trembling, embarrassment while blushing or demonstrate love by showing that the pulse quickens and breathing becomes irregular. However, we cannot take for granted the existence of a natural relationship between emotions and these bodily translations. For instance, while the passions were considered in the Early Modern period to be the expression of the movements of the soul, as well as powerful agents shaping bodies in health and disease, late nineteenth century and early twentieth century physiologists and psychologists would discover that the material body was an effect of “the immediate and local emotions produced in the laboratory” (Dror, 1998). From this historical perspective, the relationships between bodies and emotions seem to be far from being universal, as they are also socially and institutionally produced in specific historical contexts.

This three-day workshop seeks to challenge the idea that emotions invariably correspond to certain bodily expressions, by showing that they can alternatively be understood as cultural practices that have the affective power of transforming reality by creating emotional bodies. On the one hand, bodies will be interpreted as an expressive medium that allows us to “negotiate the boundaries and crossings of self and society” (Porter, 2001). These malleable boundaries of the body will be understood in connection with the changing meaning of social norms, cultural codes and institutions, but especially as the result of the work of emotions. On the other, we propose the understanding of emotions as cultural practices that do things. This performativity of emotions has been stressed by scholars working on the history of the French revolution (Reddy, 1997; 2001), the history of medicine (Bound-Alberti, 2006), political theory (Ahmed, 2004) and literary theory (Labanyi, 2010) as one of the most fruitful lines of research in emotion history.

Taking the metaphor of the body as starting point, this conference aims at discussing new possibilities to enhancing our understanding of the historical performativity of emotions as agents that have generated meaning to physical, social, political, artistic and literary bodies. Therefore, the expression “emotional bodies” may be regarded as an analytical category enabling us to explore how different historical conceptions of emotions (e.g. sentiments, passions, affects and feelings), as well as the practices and objects associated with them, had produced systems of symbolic and physical relations which we understood here as “bodies” with a multidisciplinary purpose. We invite scholars working in any historical period to focus on one of the following topics; each of them related to the creation of scientific, socio-political and artistic bodies.

Producing emotional bodies in the sciences. Observation, experimentation and diagnosis have been historically used as techniques of scientific standardisation for defining the body in love, pain or pleasure. For instance, passions have been identified since Aristotle as powerful agents shaping human and animal physiognomies. Particularly, the body in love has been defined by determining the state of the pulse and the redness of countenance in Ancient medicine or through its twentieth-century conceptualisation in terms of hormone adrenaline and excitement. In which ways have scientific practices normalized emotional expressions throughout history? Have scientists’ emotions affected their work in hospitals or laboratories? How have emotions of non-speaking bodies such as those of infants and animals been scientifically categorized? Have scientific approaches on emotions penetrated into popular culture through novels, theatre, photography or film? We are looking for proposals that can contribute to shedding light on what extent the scientific production of emotions has shaped bodies that are recognisable in everyday life.

Emotions as sites for social exchange and political change. From the politics of fear examined by Joanna Bourke, to Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu and Christian Delaporte’s analysis of indignation and Sara Ahmed’s study on happiness, the collective dimension of emotions has been stressed as a potential site for social activism and political change. Is there any connection between the emergence of emotional styles and the production of the revolutionary bodies? What kind of materials and sources do we need to explore in order to reconstruct the emotions of the crowd? Has the performance of different emotions contributed to defining new bodies such as those of the feminist, anti-racist and queer movements? In this panel, we would like to address the question about the possibility of creating new social and political bodies through the performance of collective emotions.

The affective power of literature, photography and film. Scholars working in literary and photographic studies have claimed an affective turn in order to look at texts and cultural productions from the point of view of what they can do, rather than what they mean (Labanyi, 2010; Edwards, 2012; Bouju and Gefen, 2012). Thus, for example, a great number of novels, photographs and films of war have mobilised our empathy towards a humanitarian sensibility (Taithe, 2006). It was not long ago that Stéphane Hessel’s Indignez-vous! reminded us that emotions could also be a call for social and political action. How we should understand the performativity of aesthetic emotions? What role have they played in the creation of broader emotional regimes (e.g. mobilization of empathy, compassion or pity in the actual rise of the victim figure)? Can books, photographs or works of art be considered as “affective objects” produced by our sensory, haptic engagements with them? We encourage scholars interested in discussing the affective power of literary texts, photographic and film documents or artistic creations to present a proposal exploring the ways in which these objects can be interpreted as emotional bodies.

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please send us a proposal of no more than 300 words for a 20 minutes presentation to by the 1st, July 2014.

Organising committee

Dolores Martin Moruno- IEH2, University of Geneva

Sophie Milquet- Department of French Modern Studies, University of Lausanne

Beatriz Pichel – PHRC, de Montfort University


V-Day: Passion, Celebration or Street Harassment?

I just read the obituary of the sailor portrayed by the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in his famous picture “V Day” at the BBC News.

I have been thinking about a post about this photograph for a while. I´m sure you all know what I´m talking about: it´s 1945, the japanese have just surrendered, and people is celebrating the victory in the streets. Among them, Eisenstaedt captures a sailor grabbing a nurse and kissing her to celebrate the victory.*

This image has become iconic. Along with the Parisian kiss photographed by Robert Doisneau, this picture stands for passionated love. They are both so widely known that many articles have been written about them, wondering about the identity of the kissers, they have been recreated by amateurs and have been sold as posters and postcards.

However, there is a main difference between both pictures. In Doisneau´s case, it´s been known that this was a staged picture. The man and the women were not two strangers kissing while walking around in Paris, but they were working for Doisneau. Eisenstaedt’s picture, however, is not the result of posing, at least, not a carefully studied pose arranged by the photographer. According to the obituary, the sailor grabbed the nurse so Eisenstaedt “got a clear shot of the nurse”. Then, this picture would be more “natural” than the previous one.

But, is “naturalness” what we demand in a picture? is it even important? One could say that in this case yes, because what we want to see is a real kiss, not a fake one. And even if the two lovers at the Hôtel de Ville seem truly in love, they’re not. However, and that’s the interesting thing for me, neither is the couple in Eisenstaedt´s picture. In this photograph, the sailor is kissing the nurse, not the other way around. They’re not kissing, he is kissing her.

I think it’s very symptomatic of our contemporary views on romantic love that we have totally neglected the fact that this is not a consented kiss. The imaginary this picture uses to arise is that of love and passion, even celebration, not of abuse and street harassment. Why? I think many factors converge here. First, the perfect and beautiful composition of the picture and its iconic character have secured the transmission of the narrative without putting it into question. We’re looking at a great photo in aesthetic terms, and we recognize it so well that we do not need to pay attention to details such as the passive arm of the nurse. Second, and this is much more complicated, women’s bodies in public spaces has been (and unfortunately usually are) perceived as a public property. We may not tolerate unwanted kisses now, but the fact that we don´t see a non-consented kiss in this picture should make us think. How are we thinking about love if this picture can “represent” it? Have these and other images where women’s bodies are used with other purposes shaped our image of love? Can we image this photograph reversing the roles?


*Getty Images holds the copyright of the picture and they made me pay for posting it, so I´m sorry! but just click the link to see it.