‘Affective Infrastructures’ : A Tableau, Altar, Scene, Diorama, or Archipelago

Last summer I was approached by Daphne Dragona, one of Transmediale‘s curators, with a difficult text by the scholar, Lauren Berlant, ‘The Commons: Infrastructures for Troubling Times’. Daphne was taken up with the notion of ‘affective infrastructures’ developed by Berlant, that had resonance with their thinking around the next (that is, 2019), untitled, edition of Transmediale that would emphasize feelings and affect.

Daphne also asked if I would be interested in leading, or, ‘moderating’, a new format TM was trying out, the Study Circle. Knowing nothing about Studying in Circles, or Affective Infrastructures, but very curious, I said yes.

‘Affect’ is difficult to grasp, because it is not either feelings, or emotions, but here is something that might help understand what it is:

“The transmission of affect means that we are not self-contained in terms of our energies. There is no secure distinction between the ‘individual’ and the ‘environment’” (Brennan 6). Because affect is unformed and unstructured (unlike feelings and emotions) it can be transmitted between bodies. The importance of affect rests upon the fact that in many cases the message consciously received may be of less import to the receiver of that message than his or her non-conscious affective resonance with the source of the message. … Every form of communication where facial expressions, respiration, tone of voice, and posture are perceptible can transmit affect, and that list includes nearly every form of mediated communication other than the one you are currently experiencing. ” (Shouse, 2005)

Affect and feelings are what infants have, for example, but not emotions; because you need language to process your feelings, structure and convey them. I find these distinctions really interesting when you think about it from the perspective of infrastructure. Because affect is something not easily structured but can be conveyed through media, it inspires and resonates “independent of content or meaning” (Shouse again).

What does it mean if the things that make us human, that precede feelings and emotions, and can be transmitted between people, become an infrastructure? This is what I have spent the past six months thinking about!

And more than six months and many long distance VOIP calls between Brussels, Berlin, London, Rio, Mexico City and New York City later, eight of us wrote a text collaboratively about Affective Infrastructures, did a workshop and put on a three hour discussion-based event at Transmediale in January.

The collaborative text writing was my favourite part. I loved that we were able to write together in real time, as if talking but without the social pressure that comes with talking in a group. And this is thanks to my co-moderator Femke Snelting of Constant VZW in Brussels, for her thoughtfulness, wisdom, companionship; and for the free/libre infrastructure Constant makes available and defends the right to.


Berlant, L. (2016) The commons: Infrastructures for troubling times. Society and Space, Vol 34(3) 393-419.

Shouse, E. (2005) “Feeling, Emotion, Affect,” M/C Journal, 8(6). Retrieved from http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php.

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