Collective action and Institutional Affect

14.15 – 14.20 Opening remark

14.20 – 15.30 Philipp Wunderlich and Christian von Scheve (Freie Universität Berlin): Congruent emotional responses to external events as facilitators of collective action

15.30 – 15.50 Coffee break

15.50 – 17.00 Jan Slaby (Freie Universität Berlin): The second life of institutions



Congruent emotional responses to external events as facilitators of collective action (Wunderlich & von Scheve)

Social identity is understood as a central driver of collective action. However, in large-scale crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, mobilization for collective action like volunteering often has to take place way beyond tightly integrated social groups like social movement organizations in which strong social identities already exist. This poses the question, how social identification with a collective and consequently joint action can newly emerge in the face of external events.

We propose a mechanism in which congruent emotional responses between individuals and mobilizing actors towards the external event can motivate participation in collective action through two pathways: First, similar emotional responses signal shared concerns which in turn help in the construction of a we. Second, shared transient emotions are an ingredient of successful interaction rituals which produce feelings of solidarity and are intrinsically rewarding. Individuals who perceive congruent emotions in others may thus be pulled into collective action by the prospect of successful interaction.

In order to test this hypothesis, we conduct an online vignette experiment in which respondents are prompted to volunteer on behalf of a vulnerable group by mobilizing actors. These fictitious actors display emotions either convergent or divergent from respondents’ own emotions towards the situation of that group. Results provide initial support for our expectation that convergent emotions result in higher propensity for collective action, especially regarding forms that involve social interactions.


The second life of institutions (Slaby)

This talk applies the perspective of situated affectivity to a key issue of social philosophy: the functioning and potential dysfunction of institutions. Affect plays an important but under-theorized role in how institutions involve and engage human agents. The rules, routines and procedures of institutions engender certain modes of affective comportment, while they constrain or exclude other such modes. Institutions also endow and habituate individuals, turning them into institutional affect agents whose skills and orientations embody institutional principles, sometimes, if different principles are in play, in contradictory or ambivalent ways. In this talk, I combine a theoretical with a critical perspective on institutional affect. My theoretical proposal, outlined briefly in the first part of the presentation, centers on three dimensions of institutional affect. These dimensions are institutional space, institutional agents and institutional discourse. For each dimension, I will describe key ways in which affect operates a conduit for institutional operations. Based on that, my critical proposal, which occupies the main part of my talk, focuses on how affect contributes to what I call the “second life” of institutions: procedures and dynamics that stand in a marked contrast to the official purpose, guiding idea and codified rules of the institution in question. Using education, especially secondary schools, as an example, I show how institutions can function as affective arrangements that interpellate subjects in highly selective and often discriminatory ways. I conclude by discussing the intricate entanglement of official institutional mandates and the affective dynamics that make up an institution’s second life. Throughout, I draw on insights and resources from affect theory, social philosophy and critical phenomenology.