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<nettime> (Re-)Designing Affect Space - Preliminary elements for a conce
Eric Kluitenberg on Sat, 30 Sep 2017 19:20:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> (Re-)Designing Affect Space - Preliminary elements for a conceptual model of Affect Space

dear nettimers,

A slightly edited and hyperlinked version of this text has recently appeared on the excellent Open! online platform for art, culture, and the public domain. You can access and freely download the edited text here: http://www.onlineopen.org/re-designing-affect-space 

The text is part of a series of commissioned essays for Open! that result from the public research trajectory Technology / Affect / Space, which we undertook mostly in 2016. The entry point to that essay series can be found here: http://www.onlineopen.org/technology-affect-space 

This is a medium long-read (± 7000 words) and follows up on the long-read essay “Affect Space: Witnessing the Movement(s) of the Squares” (11.243 words), published by Open! in 2015, which can be found here: http://www.onlineopen.org/affect-space 

The main aim of this new text is to develop the conceptual model of Affect Space further, beyond the massive protest gatherings post-2011 that revealed this emergent ‘techno-sensuous spatial order’, as I call it, so clearly. Be aware though that while the model is still partly speculative, the emerging order of Affect Space is already in full operation and constitutes an intensely contentious political space.

best wishes,


(re-)Designing Affect Space
Preliminary elements for a conceptual model of Affect Space 

This text draws together a set of characteristics that can be used as building blocks for a conceptual model of Affect Space. I have previously described Affect Space as an emerging techno-sensuous spatial order. Here I build upon these earlier investigations and the outcomes of the Technology / Affect / Space (T / A / S) public research trajectory conducted in 2016, which included public seminars in Amsterdam, Cambridge, MA and Rotterdam. The investigations continue in a series of commissioned essays on Open! [1], of which this text is one. These essays can help to articulate new design strategies for this quickly evolving context, where the spatial design disciplines are curiously absent from the debate. 

Re: The ‘Movement(s) of the Squares’

It is not that the so-called ‘movement(s) of the squares’ [2] invented a new dynamic of mobilisation of crowds and activation of public space. Much rather they revealed an emerging spatial order, which had implicitly been building with the advent of distributed electronic communication networks and the proliferation of wireless and mobile media in extremely ‘densified’ urban spaces. This emerging spatial order produced paradoxical spectacles that seemed at once strangely familiar and curiously novel, massive as well as evanescent.

Since 2011 we all (as a global predominantly online media audience) have been witness to the recurrent spectacle of these massive gatherings in dissent in public space. Originating in networked exchanges, spilling over into the streets and squares, effortlessly switching between geographic, cultural and socio-political contexts. Only this time, we witnessed not via mainstream mass-media channels, but near real-time through live streams, social media feeds, blogs and activist sites, and buzzing smart phones.

While revolving around a variety of heterogeneous issues (things), these gatherings remained remarkably constant in their pattern of mobilisation / activation: Not just that of online mobilisation followed by embodied gatherings in public space, but crucially using these public spaces themselves as connective platforms creating synchronous and asynchronous feedback loops into the electronic networks, drawing ever more subjects into an ‘attractive field’, iteratively generating further feedback loops between networked and embodied presences that dissolve and fade out as easily as they expand exponentially.

Beyond the non-linear and highly unpredictable dynamics at work here, these events seemed particularly impenetrable when the pattern started to replicate itself in self-similar manifestations where any substantive political, ideological, or material issue / thing was explicitly absent. [3] No longer was the issue the ‘thing that brings us together because it divides us most’ (Latour, 2005), but in the absence of an issue the gatherings seemed almost ‘blind’, autonomous, self-organising, pertaining only to some inscrutable internal logic as yet to be unveiled. And crucially: void of any particular content. Thus leaving wide open the question how to account for them?

The Constitution of Affect Space

The concept of Affect Space was first proposed in a long-read essay for the Open! platform written and published in 2015 (Kluitenberg, 2015). In this essay the contours of a model were suggested that builds on three constitutive elements: 

A technological component: Internet, but in particular the massive use of mobile and wireless media perform a crucial function to mobilise large groups of people around ever changing ‘issues at stake’. 

An affective component: The affective intensity generated and exchanged in these processes of activation and mobilisation instantiated in the body of the physical actors in the streets and squares. This affective component indicates an insistent ‘somatic turn’ away from the symbolic towards a physically registered, felt intensity that resonates with other bodies and objects.

A spatial component: The affective intensities generated in the activation process cannot be shared effectively in disembodied online interactions at the screen. This lack stimulates the desire for physical encounter, which can only happen in a physical spatial context, paradigmatically in (urban) public space.

The current text expands on this proposed model. It provides the preliminary elements of a conceptual model of Affect Space. While some aspects of this conceptual model may seem speculative, it is important to realise that the emerging techno-sensuous spatial order of Affect Space is already in full operation. It operates in the new forms of public assembly and their often contradictory dynamics. It operates in new forms of distributed policing and control in and of public space. It is also part of a highly evolved system of technologically enabled ‘persuasion design’ [4], deeply embedded in the structure of corporate technology giants, including some of most highly valued transnational companies in existence on the planet today.

Therefore this conceptual model does not deal with a purely speculative object. Instead it speculates about the general characteristics and traits of an emerging order that holds important cultural and political implications. The emerging order of Affect Space conflates the functions of the most advanced media systems, the activation of public spaces, and the individual subjective experiences engendered by their mingling — what Félix Guattari would refer to as the ‘subjective universes of reference’ (Guattari, 1989). All of these different ‘registers’ are of crucial importance to the functioning of contemporary democracies, and they need to be considered carefully in relation to each other.

To disentangle the network of associations that evolves here the following elements should at the very least be considered:

Affect Space is Synaesthetic

Affect Space is intensely synaesthetic. It involves all the senses, all of the sensuous registers, in incongruous concert. Sensation(s) in Affect Space is (are) not unified. This is an important part of their activating potential. There is little argument needed to maintain that seeing an event unfold in public space via a screen (at home, in the work-place, in transit on a mobile media device, through a live-stream or social media feed) is remarkably different from actually being part of that event physically in public space (in a park, on a square, a street).

Both types of experience may be charged with intensity, but the mediated experience is necessarily characterised by delimitation, by a lack of physical cues, a lack of proximity, an absence of participation in full. The more dramatic the witnessed action, the more anaemic the mediated experience will feel. It is this tension between a charged event witnessed from afar and its intensity unfolding in the immediacy of embodied space that fuels the desire for physical encounter.

Still, the mediated experience in itself is also entirely synaesthetic, but here the felt tension is between that what is witnessed / mediated on the screen and in sound from afar, and the body embedded in a strictly local environment, cued to that locality rather than the mediated action. This tension necessarily remains unresolved. The felt dissonance between these two simultaneous and interlacing experiences charges the witnessing subject with a potential as yet undirected energy.  

Variable Densities

Conceptually Affect Space builds on and extends the concept of Hybrid Space. First proposed by architects Frans Vogelaar and Elisabeth Sikiaridi (Vogelaar & Sikiaridi, 1988) [5], Hybrid Space designates a single unified concept of space that is characterised by the simultaneous presence (co-presence) of different, heterogeneous, and at times contradictory (operational) spatial logics. The concept proceeds from the assumption that different spatial logics are superimposed in any ‘lived’ space. Physical structures, whether natural or constructed, are superimposed with processual flows that operate according to a different and mostly incommensurable spatial logic. Such flows can be flows of communication, trade, goods and service provision, transportation, data flows, and even face-to-face exchanges and public gatherings of different kinds. While the concept of Hybrid Space is thus not necessarily defined by the superimposition of technological infrastructures onto the ‘natural’ or built environment, the density and heterogeneity of space is greatly increased by electronic communication media, especially by the increasing presence of electronic signals, carrier waves and wireless communication and data networks in lived environments.

In their essay “idensifying™ translocalities” (Vogelaar & Sikiaridi, 1999), Vogelaar and Sikiaridi include a citation from Vilém Flusser’s essay ‘The City as Wave-Trough in the Image-Flood’ that provides a remarkably prophetic image of the variable densities of contemporary hybridised urban spaces, permeated by wireless media and information flows, and the ‘webs of interhuman relations‘ that unfold in them:

“The new image of humanity looks roughly like this: we have to imagine a network of interhuman relations, a 'field of intersubjective relations'. The threads of this web must be conceived as channels through which information (ideas, feelings, intentions and knowledges etc.) flows. These threads get temporarily knotted and form what we call 'human subjects'. The totality of the threads constitutes the concrete lifeworld and the knots are abstract extrapolations. […] The density of the webs of interhuman relations differs from place to place within the network. The greater the density the more 'concrete' the relations. These dense points form wave troughs in the field […] The wave-troughs exert an 'attractive' force on the surrounding field (pulling it into their gravitational field) so that more and more interhuman relations are drawn in from the periphery. […] These wave troughs shall be called 'cities'.”  
(Flusser, 1988)

The knotting of dense webs of interhuman relations identified by Flusser, is intensified exponentially by the proliferation of networked and mobile wireless media. Adrian Mackenzie for instance, in his book Wirelessness (Mackenzie, 2010, p. 213), speaks of  ‘overflows’ (spatial, thing, body, private-public) redrawing boundaries and reorganising spaces of action. Crucially, though, Flusser recognises these dense webs of interhuman relationships as constituting the concrete lifeworld of contemporary urban subjects, implying that both urban space and subjective experience are transformed simultaneously by these ‘densifications’.

This constellation should be regarded as inherently unstable. The density of Hybrid Space varies not only from place to place, but also from moment to moment. Carrier signals appear and disappear, sometimes because of economic boom or collapse, sometimes because of government intervention (regulation), sometimes because of purely physical interference (overlapping signals can cause network failure). Connection speeds and capacities vary continuously. Thus the ‘knotted webs of interhuman relationships’ continuously tighten and loosen up.

The Affective Threshold

When the networked linkages become increasingly tight, interhuman relationships tend to shift from a deliberative to an affective level. Information overload, viral visual, auditory and textual messages, continuous demands for responses, haptic feedback mechanisms (buzzing phones, thumbing wearables) induce this shift from deliberation to the play of affective registers. When observing from a distance, at the screen, the ever tighter linkages between the physical domain and the electronic networks intensify the felt dissonance between the mediated and the embodied experience enormously. The ‘screen’ can stir but not fulfil these elicited physical desires.

As observed earlier, the lack of an immediate embodied relation is what drives the quotidian media subject ‘beyond the screen’ into the streets and squares to find an unmediated connection. The resulting proximity of bodies, masses of bodies, in urban public space, cued to an as yet unarticulated intensity, galvanises the flow of affect, further intensifying the webs of interhuman relations. What we have witnessed in the repeated spectacles of massive gatherings in dissent since 2011 (and prototypical before) is the passing of an affective threshold. Mobile and wireless media perform a crucial function in this, because they ensure that the unmediated action / connection is immediately fed back into the integrated network, synchronous (in near real-time from the streets and squares), and asynchronously via uploads in higher bandwidth zones (offices, homes, internet-cafés, public wifi networks), thus drawing in ‘more interhuman relations from the periphery’ (Flusser). 

One could imagine expressing this affective threshold in mathematical terms, as a measure of overlapping networked and embodied density. A critical bifurcation that causes a social singularity to emerge. The passing of the affective threshold initiates an exponential autocatalytic and nonlinear intensification of interhuman relations. The conditions for passing the affective threshold are strongest where the knotted webs are most dense / tight. Typically we find these ‘dense webs’ in large urban concentration zones where a diversity of (communication) technologies and peoples overlap.

Activation of Public Space and Affective Attractors

The conditions that enable the passing of the affective threshold outlined above, turn public space into a ‘performance space’. To some extent public space has always been ‘performative’. However the now massified practices of self-mediation, particularly with the advent of smartphones, play a crucial role in this. ‘Self-mediation’ refers to the constitution of mediated presence by non-professional media producers. Researcher Lilie Chouliaraki has observed that self-mediation is characterised by a ‘performative publicness’ (Chouliaraki, 2012/10). What the mobile media enable is a self-enactment simultaneously in public space and in the media network, especially when live streams are involved, in near real-time. I have previously referred to this double self-enactment as the constitution of a double presence in Hybrid Space (Kluitenberg, 2015). The primary aim of self-mediation is the establishment of affective relationships, not the communication of information. Self-mediation shifts the emphasis from a specific content to the processual in mediated expressions. Affect Space is hence both performative and processual. 

It would be a mistake to argue from this that Affect Space has no content at all. Quite the opposite, it is filled with potential and differential content that can manifest itself at any time and in any place, often quite unexpectedly. The activation of Affect Space, however, does not happen primarily around issues, but around performative presences that can produce strong affective intensities.

It is necessary to understand these ‘performative presences’ more precisely. They can manifest themselves in public space at any scale in and through the bodies of multiplied singular actors (the protestor(s) in the case of the ‘movement(s) of the squares’). They can also manifest independent from this particular actor’s physical body. In this case images, sounds, objects, symbols, textual messages, videos, collective chants act as resonance objects that carry not a particular or specific meaning, but rather a limitless potential for producing meaning / sensation / intensity. I call these resonance objects ‘Affective Attractors’. An Affective Attractor is the instantiation of a ‘potential for interaction’ (Massumi, 2002, 35), which can vary in strength and can appear across the full range of sensory stimuli as well as across any mediating structure. 

Different types of affective attractors can be identified that operate each in their own specific way as resonance objects. The measure of their strength depends on whether they produce a strong or weak resonance with the affective state of the participant in the action / event.

Visual attractors

The classic iconography of protest is the protest sign held up by the protestor, usually in front of the chest. This image, immortalised by Bob Dylan and D. E. Penebaker’s iconic 1965 music video avant la lettre Subterranean Homesick Blues [6], derives its power not from its visual sophistication, but exactly from the absence thereof. The held up signs appear ‘amateurish’, improvised: cheap materials, bad hand drawn lettering. A sign with visual sophistication will soon be looked upon with distrust or even disdain. What Jean Baudrillard so beautifully described as ‘the uncanny charm of the simulacrum’s authenticity-effect’ (Baudrillard, 1983 / 81), inscribes itself in the ragged edges of the cardboard signs and the messy lettering.

The eternal return of this same visual cliche reveals its ‘true’ nature as a mediatised self-replicating meme. Not an _expression_ of an ‘authentic’ desire, but a pure sign, operating in the mode of simulation, a copy without original, a simulacrum, and as Baudrillard states at the outset of his famous Precession of Simulacra essay; ‘the simulacrum is true’, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes. (Baudrillard, 1983) The affective charge of the sign derives here not so much from its actual content, usually generic phrases, but much more from its instant recognition as a protest-sign.

There is however a ‘second order’ of visual attractors that projects a much more powerful incipient connective force. This visual sign depends on a rupture of the semantic field, which was identified most precisely by Roland Barthes in his brilliant Camera Lucida as the ‘punctum ‘(Barthes, 1982). In my long-read essay Affect Space (Kluitenberg, 2015) I have analysed this mechanism in depth in relation to the iconic Lady in Red image that became an immensely powerful affective attractor during the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013.

Here the visual sign relies not on the instant recognition of a visual cliche that has become vernacular, but instead on the production of a visual incongruity that disrupts interpretation altogether and opens up an interpretative and experiential void. It is the confrontation with this void, the impossibility of interpretation, that opens up an infinite space of potential in which affect can flow freely and unbound. The connective force of these second order visual attractors derives exactly from this impossibility of interpretation, which makes it possible to ‘connect that which is usually indexed as separate’ (Massumi, 2002, 24). Visual signs, such as the Lady in Red, that belong to this second order category of visual attractors can become particularly powerful affective resonance objects.

Linguistic attractors

Brian Massumi suggests that affect, understood as a non-conscious and never to be conscious bodily intensity, is not in opposition to language. Much rather language has a differential relation to affect. This differential relation between affect and language expresses itself as resonance. Some forms of language have a particularly strong resonance with affect, while other forms of language have a particularly weak resonance with affect. The first type can tremendously amplify a felt, but as yet not (fully) articulated intensity, while the second type can dampen this felt intensity.

Conscious articulating of such a felt intensity is a form of capture and closure of affect, and Massumi states that ‘emotion’ (as a conscious state) is the most intense  / contracted _expression_ of that capture (Massumi, 2002, 35). In other words language / articulation that designates itself to a particular conscious state (emotion) or a definite concept (deliberation) will typically dampen affect. Conversely, language that is most void of semantic content can serve to amplify affect, particularly when its purely syntactical and rhythmical structure enhances the free play of the cognitive faculties without a designation to a particular concept. The ‘semantically open’ structure of such language objects resonates strongly with the semantic openness of affect, exactly because of the absence of a particular content that would inhibit the free flow of affect / intensity. 

Aphoristic slogans, chants, short sentences (that create a vague but insistent sense of connection turn out to be particularly powerful affective attractors (“We are the 99%” / “Je suis Charlie”), precisely because of their absence of a particular content. Again, it would be a mis-conception (Massumi would gracefully say a ‘missed conception’ - Massumi, 2015) to derive from this that affect has no content. On the contrary affect is filled with an overabundance of potential content, a ‘too much’ that forces its way to some _expression_ / manifestation, and builds up as long as it escapes capture. This potential already predicts the future event, we just do not know as yet where / when it will arrive because it can still connect that what is usually indexed and treated as separate. This is what determines its inherent unpredictability.

Auditory attractors

Anchor: “Mike Check!”
Crowd: “Mike Check!!!”
(repeats three times)

The human mike procedure to amplify a single speaker to a crowd of any size without the need for electrical amplification —  practised in countless protest gatherings and immortalised in the #occupy gatherings on Wall Street and elsewhere in the United States and beyond — is a prime example of an auditory affective attractor. The procedure requires a speaker to speak in preferably short phrases, which are then repeated by the crowd (chorus) collectively. The triple ‘mike check’ is performed before each speech to temporarily synchronise the voices in the crowd.

Experience has shown that short and rhythmically well constructed phrases work best in this setting, while speeches filled with elaborate argumentation tend to dissipate. The true affective power of this auditory attractor lies not in the phrase itself (its syntactical or rhythmic construction), and certainly not in its content (semantics), but in the process of collective reproduction of the original phrase: The humming of voices in the distance, the enthusiasm or dissipating energies of proximate members in the crowd / chorus, shared and differing intonations, the resonance of chorus voices, the synchronicity of the collective speech act and its simultaneously imperfect timing, its repetitive structure, interspersed with stalling voices and broken temporality while retaining its fixed (conventional) format.

The human mike procedure is particularly inapt at initiating a process of deep and sophisticated (subtle) deliberation, yet it creates an enormously powerful sense of connectedness across the crowd / chorus of participants. This connection is established not through what is specifically said (content / semantics), but primarily in the uttering of this collective speech act (the active participation in the collective action  / event). In this sense the conventions of the human mike procedure seem close in character to the collective chanting in religious ceremony, where what is uttered is already known in advance of the act of uttering, focussing attention almost entirely on the collective process that unfolds and its implied ritual meanings.

Corporeal attractors

The proximity of bodies in the crowd generates the prerequisites for an accelerated flow of affect / intensity.  Affect is contained here in the recognised vitality of the body. It is not just that the proximity of other bodies resonates with one’s own pre-existing state of affectedness (a state existing in advance of entering the crowd). When asked in an interview in 2016 what comes before affect, Massumi replied “participation” [7]. The participation in the crowd can in itself lead to a state of being affected by the intensities contained in other’s bodies, irrespective of one’s affective state before participation in the event: smell, hormonal exchanges, body temperature, moist-levels, gesticulation, facial _expression_, bodily postures and movements, murmur, conversation, cheers, the bellow of the crowd / chorus, they all facilitate the capacity of affecting and being affected.

Through this recognised vitality of the body, the particular body starts to act as a corporeal resonance object, a corporeal attractor that galvanises the flow and amplification of affect in the crowd. Also here, an increased density (proximity and scale) of bodies (in a crowd) can facilitate the passing of the affective threshold and enable an exponential amplification of intensity / affect.

A fatal split between content and effect, or: Against Issue / Thing Politics

Through what Massumi has so famously described as ‘the missing half second’ he argues that affect moves at roughly twice the speed of conscious action (Massumi, 2002, 29). Impulses ‘impinging’ on the body produce (measurable) changes in bodily states well before any conscious cognitive processing of these impulses can take place. Because of this difference in speed between affect and cognition the field of affect remains inherently semantically unstructured. This principle introduces an inevitable split between content (consciously articulated issues) and effect (changes in bodily states). They operate on parallel tracks and with incongruous speeds, where affect always precedes and supersedes cognition. [8]

The erroneous conclusion too often drawn from this is that affect has no content. As observed earlier, we should rather regard affect as overfull with potential content and action. Massumi states that “the half second lapse between the beginning of a bodily event and its completion in an outward directed, active _expression_ - this half second is overfull - in excess of its actually performed action and ascribed meaning. Will and consciousness are subtractive - limitative, derived functions that reduce complexity too rich to be functionally expressed.” (Massumi, 2002, 29). In the process of mobilisation of crowds and activation of public spaces this holds a crucial implication: Under conditions where the passing of the affective threshold precipitates the primacy affect over deliberation / conscious articulation, what acts as the connective tissue bringing together masses of previously unrelated actors is not so much a shared issue, but rather a shared affective resonance.

The passing of the affective threshold induced by the intense densification of Hybrid Space dislocates traditional conceptions of social action and social movements. Shared ‘collective action resources’ are no longer the primary source of activation of public space and large scale social / political formations. The shift from collective action to connective action proposed by Lance Bennett and Alexandra Segerberg (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012) also does not fully capture this new condition. Bennett and Segerberg argue that the communication structures take the place of traditional organisational structures (unions, political parties, NGOs, action committees) and the ‘collective action resources’ that social movement theory attributes to these strategic actors. The communication structures themselves become the organisational structure, they argue, mobilised by connective action around a shared socio-political issue.

What their view fails to take into account, however, is the primacy of the connective force of affect under conditions of intense densification and its inherent semantic openness. The shared affect under such conditions can accommodate a theoretically unlimited range of personal and  / or collective issues, while the strength of its connective force is strongest when a designation to any particular issue remains absent, or is only vaguely indicated (“We are the 99%!”).

This new understanding of recent forms of collective gatherings in dissent and the activation of densified public spaces stands in stark contrast to the recent propositions of ‘thing-politics’ by Bruno Latour and the foundational work done by sociologist Noortje Marres on Issue Politics that Latour builds upon (Latour, 2005 / Marres, 2005). Latour’s general hypothesis is that “we might be more  connected to each other by our worries, our matters of concern, the issues we care for, than by any other set of values, opinions, attitudes or principles.” And he considers this seemingly ‘trivial’ observation part of a process of becoming a “realist’ in politics. (Latour, 2005, 4) 

It is then in this view the ‘Issue’ (Marres), or ‘Thing’ (Latour) that brings a public into being. In her analysis Marres defers to the Lippmann-Dewey debate of the 1920s to discuss the wider displacement of politics outside of conventional democratic arrangements, particular transnational institutions and global networks of Non-Governmental Organisations, where singular issues become the activating units for engendering a constantly moving political formation. In Latour’s terms, ever shifting modes of assembly. The title of Marres’ PHD thesis makes the centrality of this mechanism immediately clear: ‘No Issue, No Public’ (Marres, 2005).

In Latour’s analysis the ‘Issue’ is expanded into the ‘Thing’, which is not just an object of controversy, but also a place of gathering (sometimes even a physical place). Latour introduces a highly elegant formula for understanding the connective force of the Thing: “(..) long before designating an object thrown out of the political sphere and standing there objectively and independently, the Ding or Thing has for many centuries meant the issue that brings people together because it divides them.” (Latour, 2005,13) 

Both analyses share the common approach that after the displacement of politics outside of conventional democratic arrangements it is the controversies over Issues / Things that drive the new types of political formation, and indeed bring ‘the public’ into being. However, when considering the affect-driven types of political formation scrutinised here we can no longer assume this singular Issue / Thing as the activating unit of events given the lack of semantic ordering, the semantic openness, of affect. The relationship of affect to Issues / Things is not singular but differential. Affect can attach itself to any and every particular Issue / Thing, and connect ‘that what is normally indexed as separate’. (Massumi, 2002, 24)

As a result in events operating under the primacy of affect, Massumi argues in his recent Politics of Affect (Massumi, 2015), there is no sameness of affect, there is only affective difference in the same event, a process he labels as ‘collective individuation’:

Say there are a number of bodies indexed to the same cut, primed to the same cue, shocked in concert. What happens is a collective event. It’s distributed across those bodies. Since each body will carry a different set of tendencies and capacities, there is no guarantee that they will act in unison even if they are cued in concert. However different their eventual actions, all will have unfolded from the same suspense. They will have been attuned—differentially—to the same interruptive commotion. “Affective attunement”—a concept from Daniel Stern—is a crucial piece of the affective puzzle. It is a way of approaching affective politics that is much more supple than notions more present in the literature of what’s being called the “affective turn,” like imitation or contagion, because it finds difference in unison, and concertation in difference. Because of that, it can better reflect the complexity of collective situations, as well as the variability that can eventuate from what might be considered the “same” affect. There is no sameness of affect. There is affective difference in the same event—a collective individuation.” 
(Massumi 2015, 109-110)

In events operating under the primacy of affect then, there is no immediate relation to a singular connective issue, but a differential relation to a multitude of possible, potential, implicit and explicit issues. The connective force of this type of affective gathering dissipates when the Issues / Things at stake become singular. We should raise the question here if it is still legitimate to call these social formations ‘publics’? And if there is no public, only differential affective ties, what does this mean for the democratic arrangements already displaced by Issue / Thing politics?

Intensive temporality

The temporality of the primacy of affect under conditions of intensive densification needs to be examined a bit further. The missing half second that Massumi has identified marks a field of absence, a space of disappearance, where consciousness is absent, has disappeared in a duration too short to be accessed by cognition. The speed of affect creates a temporality of events registered by the body (as felt intensity), where consciousness not so much has difficulty of keeping up, but physically cannot operate because of the extended duration required for cognitive processing.

This intensive temporality of Massumi’s missing half second bears more than a passing resemblance to the aesthetics of disappearance described by the French architect and theorist Paul Virilio. The connection may be not entirely surprising, given that Massumi has translated and edited several seminal works of Virilio in English.

In the book The Vision Machine (Virilio, 1988), Virilio observes that under pressure of continued strategic acceleration, time itself becomes the object of technological research and development. Processes formerly handled by human operators are accelerated to a point where human consciousness and cognition no longer gain access because of their pure speed. This ‘fatal strategy’ is most clearly recognisable in military conduct, where increased speed constitutes a strategic advantage over the adversary, or at least the prevention of a strategic disadvantage. The same trend can also be observed in the civil domain, for instance in automated screen trading, which has intensified exponentially both in speed and volume (the one being an _expression_ of the other) since Virilio wrote his acid critique of these systems.

This trend at technological acceleration / intensification beyond the human limit of access, leads to a split into two disparate time forms. The human time, the time of conscious perception and articulation Virilio calls ‘Extensive Time’, a time form where past, present and future are still available to consciousness. The threshold of this extensive time-form is defined by the duration required for an image to be formed, the time it takes for a visual impression to be fixed by the retina, of impulses travelling and their processing by the visual cortex, the time also for an auditory signal to be registered by the biological hearing apparatus and its neurological filtering. 

Any process operating beneath this critical threshold, too short in duration to be consciously registered and processed, simply disappears from conscious perception. Such processes and events accelerated to an ever shrinking ultrashort duration below the threshold of conscious perception give rise to a new technologically constructed time-form. Virilio calls this new time-form the ‘Intensive Time’. Here we see the true meaning of the word simulation he argues: Simulation does not aim to represent anything, instead it substitutes that what it simulates - in this case human perception. And these artificial perception systems (perceptrons) do so under a strategic operative, where the continuous drive for acceleration is guided by strategic (military / economic) necessity.

As humans we no longer have access to these processes. We can only imagine their operations, similar to how we can imagine the inaccessible electrochemical exchanges in our brains that precede cognition. These accelerated processes thereby disappear into the time/space of the ultrashort duration. They only become apparent and intelligible to us when there is a breakdown, an accident, a catastrophe, at which point they become visible to us as the fall-out of a fatal strategy gone wrong.   

Virilio’s image also suggests the active presence of a multitude and ever growing number of non-human agents in public spaces. Network nodes, signal transmitters, routers, software agents, portable media clients and their continuously active communication protocols, surveillance systems, smart objects, location aware devices, automated traffic control systems, and many other systems that ‘operate’ public spaces. Performing their actions in the ultra-short duration of the Intensive Time they remain invisible to us ‘mere’ humans, disappearing from perception into the new technologically constructed time-forms. Affect and the new technological processes thus share the Intensive Time form of the ultra-short duration. 

Affective control space

As mentioned before Affect Space is not a speculative object. This becomes most clear when examining the emergence of an ‘affective control space’ in which new forms of affective policing are deployed. The important shift in emphasis is that such new control regimes not only take indicators of physical events and real-time biometric data collection (such as facial recognition systems) into account, but also indicators for mood changes, particularly in crowded urban areas (shopping and leisure districts, and large scale public manifestations). Such indicators can be sudden behavioural changes, changes in the volume of sound-production in public space, as well as sentiment indicators in social media traffic and content. 

A good example of this new ‘affective’ approach to policing is the CityPulse pilot project, that was started in 2015 by the City of Eindhoven in co-operation with digital services company Atos and the Dutch Institute for Technology Safety and Security (DITTS). The CityPulse pilot is focused on Stratumseind, a popular drinking area in the city, regularly welcoming up to 20,000 visitors over a weekend. This area will typically see a large number of public order disturbances over a ‘regular’ weekend. The CityPulse project is intended to deploy police capacities more effectively to deal with these disturbances, and react earlier to potential disturbances based on a set of indicators that can help to predict the onset of sudden ‘mood-changes’.

As project-leads Paul Moore and Albert Seubers explain in a short article for the Atos / Ascent Magazine (Moore & Seubers, 2015), that the CityPulse project is focused on 5 key methodologies for analysing data from the streets in near real-time; social listening; real-time alerts; sentiment analysis; sound monitoring; and movement tracking. To generate data about behaviour and mood in the streets an elaborate system of sensors, movement trackers, automated and integrated video surveillance analysis is deployed across multiple camera’s in the district (with the aim of eliminating blind spots), but also constant and real-time social media analysis focussed on indicators of mood-shifts is used - these will pertain both to the intensity of traffic in the area (through mobile media used by the public on site), as well as social media postings relating to the area.

Since any of these sources of data are too unreliable on their own, the cross linking of such data sources in real-time should deliver more reliable indicators of actual or potential public order disturbances. In a sense what this vision of ‘predictive policing’ strives for is to generate increasingly reliable behavioural (affective) profiles of regular behaviour in public space to be able to detect anomalies as early as possible and direct police intervention before the disturbance is able to (affectively) spill and spread. Affective profiling and behavioural codification in automated public space surveillance systems thus become key instruments of affective policing.

‘Objective’ versus ‘subjective’ space

The final distinction that I want to introduce at this point is that between the objective versus the subjective character of Affect Space. There is an obvious tension between the subjective experience of a felt bodily intensity described by Massumi and others as affect, and its objectification in measurable physical units and flows. It makes little difference whether this happens in the cognitive psychologists’  and neuroscientists’ laboratories, or in datafied surveilled urban spaces.

The tendency here is towards a quasi-objectification of subjective experience by registering bodily cues (galvanic skin resistance, heart-rate, breathing patterns, respiration, blood pressure) and behavioural indicators. Increasingly, sensor technologies are built into wearable apparatuses (fitness trackers, smart watches and associated phones and connected software platforms) that can detect these cues and indicators continuously in a fully automated process. Behavioural patterns can be determined this way and singularly tailored lifestyle-change suggestions offered. Most of these wearable applications come with dedicated software and online platforms where data are registered, complete with ‘dashboards’ giving access to the different types of bodily data captured, and graphs and visualisations of cumulative data over time.

This tendency towards the objectification of affective markers also brings with it its own specific type of quasi-objective visual language. The visualisations are most impressive when these affective markers are linked to the body’s movements in space (a.o. through position tracking in location aware devices), or to the movements of masses of bodies in (public) space. A good example of this type of visual representation is the visual analysis by the interdisciplinary research laboratory AOS (Art is Open Source) of the activity on the social networks Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, during the protests of October 15th 2011 in Rome [9], in response to the global protest call issued by activists involved in #Occupy Wall Street. 

The visualisations and explanation of the utilised technological methods of data capture suggest a quasi-scientific view of an affectively highly charged event, where the cumulative physical indicators (movements of bodies in space, network traffic, the amount of traceable participants in the event) suggest that the affective charge of this type of event can be captured by ‘objective’ methods. There is an obvious gap between the anaemic visualisations and the intensity of the embodied events. Although the visualisations were meant to contest the exclusive focus in media and police reports on the protests turning violent, and challenge the dominant narrative of ‘power structures’ discrediting the protests, they instead seem to point mostly towards a complete pacification of the affective intensity of these events.

But also in less intense and entirely non-violent situations the gap between subjective experience and objective capture of affective intensity persists. The artist / researcher Christian Nold realised this predicament in his early and highly original and innovative project series in bio- and emotion mapping, and ‘emotional cartography’. He too used quasi objective data visualisation methods in his early explorations, linking affective markers to time-based cartographic explorations. Gradually he started to realise that he needed a different visual language, which would allow him to ‘map’ different perspectives on the situations he investigated, data driven perspectives next to individual recollections of subjective experiences gained by participants in the process of mapping the affective dimensions of the local terrains explored.

In the Stockport Emotion map, produced in 2007 with approximately 200 people involved in re-mapping their local area, Nold contrasts the way in which conventional maps show static architecture while excluding humans, and instead aimed to “present a picture of Stockport that represents the emotions, opinions, and desires of local people”. [10] The map combines sensor data collected during the public Emotion Mapping process (measuring emotional arousal) with Drawing Provocations, where participants are asked to describe in their own words and in small drawings the significance that the places visited during the mapping process hold for them. 

This resulted in a more diversified representation of the subjective experience of the terrain explored and the data-capture of arousal indicators. One of the interesting finds was that heightened arousal levels and subjective recollections of ‘remarkable’ places often did not coincide with each other.


The question to be asked at the end should be, what is a conceptual model of the emergent techno-sensuous order of Affect Space good for? We cannot be content with merely stating how this emergent order functions. The ethical and political sensitivity of this topic requires a more engaged involvement. Such an engagement can address at the very least three distinct approaches:   

The first is a practical engagement: The aim of this conceptual model is to offer conceptual tools that can help to expand the design agenda for Affect Space. The emergence of this new techno-sensuous spatial order is not a speculative matter - it is already in full operation. It is neither an accidental circumstance nor an unintended by-product of technological development trends. The mobilisation and scrutiny of ‘feelings’ (both affect and emotion)  in the intensified densities of contemporary hybrid spaces serves a variety of strategic agendas (economic and political objectives, surveillance and control structures, and even strategic forms of disruption). However, while manipulation of this emergent order is rife, because of the nonlinear dynamics of Affect Space outlined here, no single actor is in full control of the outcomes of these processes.

Understanding the dynamics at work in Affect Space can help to develop more responsible design approaches to the key elements driving these dynamics. The prospect of all-inclusive control structures invading our most subjective experiences, with their obvious potential for consumerist and political manipulation, is highly undesirable. Such forms of advanced affective policing and persuasion compromise both our ‘mental ecology’ and the public sphere. This clearly calls for a more responsible design agenda for Affect Space.  

The second is a political engagement: The so-called ‘movement(s) of the squares’ have demonstrated the connective force of affect-driven forms of mobilisation of crowds and activation of public spaces. Yet, despite the success in ‘mobilisation / activation’, virtually all of these ‘movements’ have been hampered by a dramatic lack of political efficacy. This conundrum presents itself as a paradox - how to account for the simultaneous success in mobilisation and lack of any substantive progressive political outcomes?

One reason certainly lies in the semantic openness of affect. I have argued already that the connective force of these affect-driven formations primarily relies on the degree of affective resonance produced by the ‘affective attractors’ deployed by these ‘movements’. Furthermore, I have argued that exactly the most semantically void resonance objects create the strongest affective resonance. But this absence of a semantic structure designated to specific concepts (demands, Issues, Things) is deeply problematic for creating effective new political formations. In the very moment a connection is established to an articulated political issue (Thing) the connective tissue of the shared affective resonance breaks apart, at which point the primarily affect-driven social formation dissolves. 

This principle has rendered these ‘movements’ deeply ineffective when confronted with adversarial strategic political actors. The success of the affect-driven forms of mobilisation starts to become a trap for the activists staging the ‘choreography’ of protest, a liability rather than a possibility. It turns out that when affective resonance is used tactically (through the invention and deployment of forceful affective attractors), it becomes very difficult to bend it to a strategic purpose.  

The other reason is less obvious at first, but might be even more crucial to resolving the apparent paradox of success in mobilisation and lack of political efficacy. Perhaps what we have witnessed are not so much processes of ‘mobilisation of a crowd’, as that they are modes of ‘activation of public space’. The ‘crowd’ then is a by-product of the reconfiguration of public space under conditions of intense densification of hybrid space and the primacy of affect over deliberation after the passing of the affective threshold. In this view the process of activation is essentially blind - it can accommodate virtually any and every issue or ‘matter of concern’ (Latour), and connect issues that are normally indexed as separate (or even opposite).

It is seductive to continue on the path of affect-driven forms of activation / mobilisation, given their surprising short-term success in bringing together previously unrelated actors. However, this runs the risk of simply creating further instances of ‘political’ formation that are ineffective by design. Instead, it seems necessary to develop forms of political mobilisation and organisation that avoid, by-pass, or transcend the modes of affective activation of densely hybridised public spaces. In effect what is required are public modes of engagement that foreground deliberation over affect. I would describe this act as engaging in deliberative forms of political design. 

The most notable exception to the general rule of lacking political efficacy in the ‘movement(s) of the squares’ is ‘laboratory’ Spain. The prolonged social crisis in the country, with staggering levels of youth unemployment, a virtual war of generations in the labour and social system, the deeply entrenched anti-foreclosure movement, and the coming together of a variety of other issue-driven social groupings have created a fertile climate for political experimentation. A variety of different ‘political designs’ are deployed here to invade and take over political systems, enforce radical democratic changes, and even to incarcerate the most prominent representatives of the financialist’ elite, who bear direct responsibility for the Spanish chapter of the financial and economic crisis of 2008. [11]  

The third, finally, would be an experiential engagement: Here I mostly look towards the role that art can perform within the emerging constellation of Affect Space. Art can play an enormously powerful role in experientially revealing the (hidden) play of / on the affective registers employed by a variety of strategic actors, which mostly remains implicit within the structure of Affect Space.

The classic urban driftwork procedure established by Guy Debord in his ‘Theory of the Dérive’ (Debord, 1958), already served to reveal how the built environment is influencing its inhabitants on a non-conscious affective level. With the advent of location aware mobile media this work can be taken much further. The emotion and bio-mapping procedures developed by Christian Nold are a good example of such artistic practices that reveal the implicit affective pre-ordering of the environment. The recent work on sound cartography by Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum is another example, but there are many other approaches that can intensify this process.

By breaking open the black box of the vast array of tracking and persuasion technologies that accompany our everyday movements in public and private space (ranging from CCTV, to mobile media, to the pervasive concept of the Internet of Things), artistic experiments can help to reveal, experientially, for a non-expert audience, the presence and role of these non-human agencies in everyday life, whose operations normally remain covert.  

If we redefine ‘design’ as ‘any deliberate form of intervention’, then we can see all of these different approaches to the exploration and reconstitution of Affect Space as part of the larger project of (re-)Designing Affect Space. The crucial question at stake in this process of (re-)designing Affect Space is: Who has agency in this emerging order, and what type of designed interventions are required to distribute agency more equitable across the different actors operating in this space (citizens, corporations, public agencies, civic organisations, local, national, and transnational authorities)?

This collective enterprise can be considered part of the ‘progressive composition of the good common world’ (Latour, 2004).

Eric Kluitenberg
Amsterdam, September 2017.


[1] This short editorial text can serve as the entry point to that series of commissioned essays:
http://www.onlineopen.org/technology-affect-space [accessed: May 18, 2017] 
 [2] This naming used by a variety of commentators, activists and researchers refers broadly to the self-similar occupations of public urban spaces that started in 2011 with the iconic occupations of Tahrir Square in Cairo and Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Despite its manifold interlinkages it remains a question if these gatherings can be rightfully interpreted as ‘movement(s)’ or rather a different type of formation with different(ial) functional and political characteristics. One of the aims of the Technology / Affect / Space public research trajectory is to answer this question.
[3] The massive mobilisation for the Project X Party in Haren (NL, September 2012) referenced in the introduction to the T / A / S essay series is perhaps the most telling case in point, where any kind of socio-economic or political issue at stake was entirely absent, yet the pattern exactly replicates that of the iconic public space occupations of the ‘movement(s) of the squares’. 
[4] See also: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19684708 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEmQ3W5-xLI    
[5] Both hardware and software, interfaces and apps of the most widely used and popular mobile media, wearables, and cross-platform apps are deliberately designed as addictive objects - perpetuating the incessant drive for continuous and repetitive intoxication ‘by design’ (excessive e-mail / timeline checking, messaging, somatic metrication). This includes haptic feedback mechanisms impinging on our bodies most intimate regions. 
 In response to the essay ‘Affect Space: Witnessing the ‘Movement(s) of the Squares’ (Kluitenberg, 2015), Vogelaar and Sikiaridi provide a more precise genealogy of how they developed the concept of Hybrid Space from 1988 onwards.
See: http://hybridspacelab.net/affect-space/   [accessed: May 5, 2017]
[6] See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subterranean_Homesick_Blues
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGxjIBEZvx0 
[7] Massumi in conversation with WTF Affect: http://wtfaffect.com/brian-massumi/ Article published August 18, 2016. [accessed May 18, 2017]
 [8] The point here is that affect is always before cognition, but it is also ‘beyond’ - by the time cognitive processing has taken place, a felt intensity has already escaped and moved elsewhere.
[9] http://www.artisopensource.net/2011/10/16/versus-rome-october-15th-the-riots-on-social-networks/
[10] http://stockport.emotionmap.net/
[11] This article for Open Democracy, June 9 2015 by Simona Levi for instance gives a good impression of the diversity of experimentation with ‘political designs’ in the larger metropolitan area of Barcelona::
https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/simona-levi/24m-it-was-not-victory-for-podemos-but-for-15m-movement [accessed May 30, 2017]
[12] See for instance the work “250 miles crossing Philadelphia (2015): http://www.250miles.net/ [accessed May 18 2017]


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