Following the “affective turn” in the social sciences and humanities, China scholars have increasingly highlighted the significance of affects, feelings and emotions in issues of governmentality, power, and agency. While the official promotion of “happiness” or “positive energy” have received considerable attention, this workshop takes this prevalence of positivity in post-reform China as an invitation to investigate its opposites: the variety of negative ordinary affects that can be viewed as ensuing from state-induced “situations of restricted agency”, to borrow Sianne Ngai's formulation. Here, negative affects are not only defined by their attendant dysphoric or unpleasant quality. Crucially, negativity derives from state-shaped emotional regimes, produced through explicit definitional acts or staged atmospheres that promote certain affects and dismiss or condemn others. In this context, what spaces are left for negativity to be expressed, circulated, cultivated, and acted upon? What can we learn from the various forms of negativity that morph out of the socio-political circumstances of post-reform China, and how to tread a fine line between the risk of romanticization and analytical dismissal? Under what conditions do the expression and performance of negative affects constitute a manifestation of autonomy from the state in the context of pervasive “happiness” campaigns? Or is their work ambivalent, if not problematic, especially when they come to be associated with specific marginalized groups? Bringing together China scholars from different disciplinary horizons, this workshop aims to reflect on the expression and performativity of negative affects in everyday life and public culture. Beyond intense feelings such as anger or suffering whose political potential has often been discussed, attention will be given to more diffuse experiences such as that of disappointment, trouble, perplexity, bitterness, complaint, or “political depression”, thus exploring new perspectives in the field of China scholarship.
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Photo : "Life's Going on", by Wang Xu