Geography Geographies of Affect
Nat O'Grady
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0186


Considered centrally important to both the theoretical and methodological character of geography in the 21st century, the notion of affect has risen to prominence at the same time as have the approximate terms non-representational and emotional geographies. The popularity of these terms has coincided too with a resurgence of interest in psycho-geographies. What affect shares with these terms is a drive to conceptualize the world beyond its representation through a variety of mediatory forces, such as text, maps and photography for example, that capture and express the world and, in so doing, render it intelligible. Theories of affect, along with pyscho-, non-representational and emotional geographies conjugate around the argument that such representational forces, if examined alone, severely limit our understanding of how humans (and equally their non-human counterparts) experience life in space. Studying such forces of representation only opens up to consideration spatial experience as a second order phenomenon, as something that we as humans live in a way that is always already shaped and influenced by different lenses. What also needs serious exploration is our lived and immediate experience of the world too. Founded on such an ethos, much psycho-geography, for example, has cultivated techniques through which to subvert representational devices and engage more closely with our own daily existence in different spaces. On another trajectory, emotional geographers have examined the bonds established between people and things and how we inculcate such bonds in our sense of place and identity. Affect, for its part, refers to the set of ever-changing processes human and non-human bodies undergo as they experience, encounter, and perform life among other bodies within material space. Affect prioritizes the body as a means for making sense of the world. In other words, affect seeks to address and examine invoked states that combine what our bodies sense and perceive with our capacities for rendering life in the world intelligible. At the same time, affect emphasizes reading the body as a means for expressing the state of affairs or situation it finds itself in. The body, for theories of affect, is at once both a faculty by which we make sense of the situations we find ourselves within and a medium that betrays the significance of the situation in which the body performs. Playing these roles, affect emphasizes reading bodies, their states and situation as pre-personal or transpersonal (or better yet pre-species and trans-species) entities. Affects can be expressed spatially as existing across and among people and things, not within them. Affect assumes a level of openness on behalf of the body, with each body showing a capacity to affect, and a capacity to be affected by, that which they co-exist with. The reciprocal conditions in which affects proliferate also feed into the sense of temporality that affects perform. States read through affect last as long or as short as the set of relations which hold them together are present. Affect articulates life and the situations in which it is lived as a series of events which exist in process, being made and remade over time by the performances that bodies enact and get caught up in. What is presented below is a broad corpus of literature that engages with several issues that have either developed as theories of affect have become popular or which theories of affect have illuminated in new ways.

General Overviews

To be grasped in a comprehensive way, affect must be understood not initially through geography but through its broader philosophical development dating at least as far back as Baruch Spinoza (Spinoza 1996), through to Henri Bergson (Bergson 1896), and up to Gilles Deleuze (Deleuze 1988). There then exist in myriad forms texts which explain the significance of these philosophies for geography (see for example Thrift 2007) and what ramifications they could possibly have both for doing geography and thinking geographically (Thrift and Dewsbury 2000). As time has elapsed in geography since these in many ways formative texts, critical reflection and application of affect in geography has expanded and diversified (Anderson and Harrison 2006, Anderson and Harrison 2010, Pile 2009). In addition, it is useful to understand affect as very much a concept that exceeds disciplinary boundaries and to appreciate its use in and development through a range of subjects beyond geography itself including sociology and cultural studies (Clough-Ticineto and Hailey 2007, Gregory and Seigworth 2010).

  • Anderson, B., and P. Harrison. “Questioning Affect and Emotion.” Area 38 (2006): 333–335.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2006.00699.x

    Important critical intervention that engages with emergent understandings of affect and emotion in the mid-2000s and proves formative to fundamental understandings of affect today.

  • Anderson, B., and P. Harrison. Taking-Place: Non-Representational Theories and Geography. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

    Collected edition that both includes a clear introduction to geography’s understanding of affect and reflects the wide range of research areas in geography that affect it is influencing.

  • Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. London: Martino, 1896.

    Perhaps the most thorough account of Bergson’s philosophy, many of the ideas found here are crucial to geographies of affect now.

  • Clough-Ticineto, P., and J. Hailey, eds. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

    Edited collection considered crucial due to its formulation of fundamental aspects of how we should think with and through affect. The book contains a range of cases to which affect has been critically applied and through which theories of affect have been developed.

  • Deleuze, G. Spinoza: A Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights, 1988.

    An insightful and clear engagement with the work of Spinoza from the perspective of a thinker himself integral to contemporary theories of affect. The text includes some dictionary definitions of Spinoza’s key concepts and a particularly useful engagement with Spinoza’s take on affect and the body.

  • Gregory, M., and E. Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

    Edited collection including chapters from some of the most important scholars of affect from across various sub-disciplines. The introduction to the book also includes a comprehensive account of the history of affect as a pursuit of the social sciences.

  • Massumi, B. Ontopower: War, Powers and the State of Perception. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822375197

    Comprehensive overview of many of the key themes in Brian Massumi’s oeuvre, whose work has been seminal to theories of affect. The text is particularly significant for understanding the mobilization of affect in regimes of power.

  • Pile, S. “Emotion and Affect in Recent Human Geography.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35.1 (2009): 5–20.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2009.00368.x

    Review of work ongoing in geography’s engagement with theories of affect. This text is useful in terms of how it distinguishes and elaborates on both lines of similarity and distinction between affect on one hand and emotion on the other.

  • Spinoza, B. Ethics. London: Penguin, 1996.

    Key text for comprending Spinoza’s philosophy. Part three of Ethics offers a thorough definition of affect that has proven pivotal to how we understand and use the term to this very day.

  • Thrift, N. Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. London: Routledge, 2007.

    An important book that lays out in detail much of Nigel Thrift’s work on affect and non-representational theory. Thrift’s work has been influential in demonstrating the relationship between affect and concepts crucial to geography, including space and time.

  • Thrift, N., and J. D. Dewsbury. “Dead Geographies and How to Make Them Live.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18 (2000): 411–432.

    DOI: 10.1068/d1804ed

    Article that demonstrates in depth the interweaving of theories of affect with notions of performativity. Also elaborates in many ways on the methodological ramifications of thinking geography with and through affect.

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