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Accepted Paper:

The power of situations. Emotional energy and reciprocity  


Joschka Philipps (University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

Situations are the most immediately experienceable units of analysis in the social sciences. This essay takes a situational lens to relate social and epistemic positionality, the role of emotional energy therein, and the implications for conceptualizing reciprocity in African studies.

Paper long abstract:

The question of how (social) positionality shapes (epistemic) perspectives is often addressed in rather structuralist terms, i.e., along the lines of race, class, gender, religion, sexuality and other markers of social inclusion and exclusion. In this essay, I seek to take a more situational lens on the relation between social and epistemic location. Such a perspective focuses on social situations as sites in which structures of inclusion and exclusion are constantly in the making (and un-making). To measure whether situations are inclusive or exclusive towards their participants, it focuses in particular on levels of "emotional energy" (Collins 2005: 39): social exclusion comes with a sense of low emotional energy, of feeling out of place, or of not being able to contribute to the situation, while social inclusion is usually felt in terms of an effortless flow, a mutual focus of attention, and a reciprocal relation. An individual’s social location in a continuum of situations is not stable but contingent, for instance on who else takes part in a social situation and how situations evolve. “Epistemic privilege of the marginalized”, as discussed in this panel, thus resides in structural positions of social marginality as an abstract potential, but it is realized (and foreclosed) in concrete social situations. The essay discusses several empirical situations in this regard as well as the implications for reciprocity in African studies and the social sciences in general.

Panel Eur08
The politics and epistemic value of positionality