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  • Entanglement
  • Sam McBean (bio)
Ken Hillis, Susanna Paasonen, and Michael Petit (eds), Networked Affect, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2015, 267pp; £24.95 hardcover.

Networked Affect contributes to a growing body of scholarship which brings together the study of affect, emotions, and feeling with new media and digital scholarship. The editors begin with the insistence that networked communication is compelled by, works through, and produces, affective attachments and investments. In the words of one of the contributors, Jodi Dean, online platforms and social network sites ‘produce and circulate affect as a binding technique’ (p90).

The collection’s insistence on the need to theorise the affective facet of networked communication builds on each of the editor’s individual publications in the field and also finds company with recent publications including Athina Karatzogianni and Adi Kuntsman’s edited collection Digital Cultures and the Politics of Emotion: Feelings, Affect and Technological Change (2012) and Joanne Garde-Hansen and Kristyn Gorton’s Emotion Online: Theorizing Affect on the Internet (2013).1 Networked Affect starts with a comprehensive introduction to the field of affect theory and to why it might matter for online research and theorizing, and the essays are then organized into three sections - intensity, sensation, and value. Essays in the first section consider how online exchange works through the production of various forms of affective intensities, while the second focuses more on the materiality (notably the connection between non-human and human bodies) of online networks, with the final section turning to consider the production of affective value as central to networked technologies (here, Facebook is the case study for three essays).

The introduction considers the stakes of affect theory for internet research. While outlining that affect studies is a diverse field (i.e. there is no single approach or agreed upon definition of affect), the editors explain that affect has been seen as a useful approach to cultural theory in the face of a ‘growing awareness of the limits to knowledge production inherent in research focused principally on representation, mediation, signification, and subjectivity’ (p4). In other words, attention to affect offers a rejoinder to approaches that might be described as ‘textual’ (focused on ideology, meaning, representation) and captures instead, what might be missed from these analyses, namely the material and the embodied - the intensities that escape and exceed what Eve Sedgwick describes as more ‘paranoid’ [End Page 132] approaches to research.2 Importantly for the collection’s concerns, the editors explain that affect theory often focused on networks, assemblages, and open systems. This focus has particular resonance with developments in theorising networked technologies and applications, which have moved away from ideas about an autonomous user separate from the machine she is using. In other words, networked technologies are widely conceptualized as ‘not merely instrumental but as generative of sensation and potentiality’ (p10). At this juncture, the editors posit that affect theory becomes a useful methodology to theorise how individual agency is always entangled ‘in technological networks of transmission and communication, as well as in the (social) networks of privilege and inequality’ (p10).

The book should be applauded for its transnational scope (articles focused on Finland and Turkey widen the reach of the collection) and for bringing together more established academics with graduate students. The result is a rich collection of essays that tackle heretofore under (and sometimes un) theorized new media objects and platforms (such as Tumblr, GIFs, online steampunk cultures, and software art), as well as practices (including pedagogy with screens, avatar identification, and online debate), convincingly arguing for the necessity of foregrounding affect to understand these objects, processes, and practices.

The collection provides new language and methodologies through which to theorize the affective specificity of the internet - including, but not limited to Dean’s contribution which, echoing ideas published elsewhere, uses the language of ‘drive’ to explain the often compulsive relationship we have with social media or Michael Petit’s term ‘digital disaffect’, which helps to name how boredom or underwhelming feelings coexist with the affective jolts the internet seemingly offers.

Jussi Parikka’s chapter on the necessity of framing software as ‘completely entangled with human worlds of affective relations’ (p103), or Melissa Gregg’s consideration of how GTD (‘Getting Things...


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pp. 132-135
Launched on MUSE
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