- What do Affects Affect? On Ross’s Mixed Emotions
Mixed Emotions makes an important contribution to a growing body of scholarship that examines the role of emotions in political phenomena from congressional campaigns to social movements. Turning to international relations, Andrew A.G. Ross asserts that the emotions entwined in violence, conflict, and post-conflict resolution stretch beyond fear and hatred. He calls for a nuanced study of how multiple kinds of emotion blend, mutate, and enable the creative adaptations through which people shape and are shaped by political events.
Ross adopts an approach that weds a microsociological focus on interpersonal social relations with neuroscientific insights about the nonconscious experience of emotions and their effect on decision-making and behavior. Elaborating the latter, he invokes Antonio Damasio’s account of how emotions register memories and expectations triggered by interpersonal interactions, as well as more recent discoveries about “mirror neurons” that simulate emotions perceived in others (25–26). This offers a biological foundation for his claims that empathy and the transfer of emotions between people are powerful shapers of collective action.
Building on these findings, Ross introduces several concepts for understanding the role of emotions in international conflict. His main concept, “circulations of affect,” refers to conscious or unconscious exchanges of emotion occurring in and through the process of social interaction (21). Circulations of affect undergird socialization processes, infuse both formal and informal institutions, and fuel collective events. They are sustained by a process that serves as the book’s second key concept: emotional contagion. Contagion is the nonintentional transfer of an emotion or mood from one individual or group to another (22). A psychosocial mechanism of transmission, emotional contagion does not require people to have direct contact, but can instead be enabled by media or other communications technology. Contagion possesses the capacity to generate change, which Ross coins as his third main concept: “creativity” (46). He elaborates three sources of creativity: the tendency of public events that intensify interaction among large groups to cause a surge in emotions, the ambiguity and flexibility inherent in contagion, and the ability of flows of emotional experiences to cause temporal syntheses across successive social interactions.
Framed by these concepts, three empirical chapters use a range of mostly secondary sources to explore the emotional dimensions of different realms of contemporary international conflict. Chapter 3 focuses on terrorism. It describes the emotional aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, arguing that politicians’ speeches and relentless media coverage, frequently invoking historical references such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, led Americans to feel fear and anger toward an “affectively constituted terrorist enemy” (83). By contrast, the March 11, 2004 bombings in Madrid gave rise to street demonstrations that directed anger toward the Spanish government. Spaniards accused their leaders of provoking the attack due to their support for the US war in Iraq and then deceptively accusing Basque separates of responsibility in order to advance their own domestic agenda. Comparing these cases, Ross concludes that, rather than having a single object or impact, societies’ emotional responses to terrorism differ in accord with their normative commitments, political environments, and the social vehicles through which affects are expressed and circulated.
Chapter 4 takes up two cases of ethnic conflict. In the former Yugoslavia, Ross looks at rallies, speeches, and the ceremonial reburying of World War II-era corpses. In Rwanda, he considers radio broadcasts and the trial and acquittal of an official accused of inciting genocide. Against elite manipulation theories of ethnic aggression that gained prominence in the 1990s, he argues that these speech and collective events did not explicitly invoke inherited animosities. Their content was surprisingly ambiguous, yet they were still invested with “concentrations of emotional energy” (103). Ross concludes that the emotional power of vague articulations, and even nonarticulated elements of speech such as body language and vocal tone, demonstrates the creativity inherent in circulations of affect. Listeners to speeches and participants in collective events were not passive consumers of incitement referencing fixed, pre-existing identities, but...