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Interview with management team of the new TWG Affect, Emotion and Media

03.12.2021 09:09 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

You may already know that the ECREA family is a bit bigger again. In the autumn, a new temporary group called Affect, Emotion and Media expanded our ranks. What are its plans? And is the role of emotions in society changing? We talked with Debora Medeiros (chair), Manuel Menke and Karina Horsti (vice-chairs), the management team of the TWG.

How did the idea of establishing this TWG arise?

Our colleagues might have noticed that affect and emotion are increasingly salient topics in media and communication journals and books. More and more research projects are presented at conferences that study and discuss the relationship between affect, emotion and media. This development did not emerge out of thin air but is a reaction to the prevalence of societal negotiations of affect and emotion in the digital age.

Originating from all the global debates about the “post-truth” era, populist communication, affective dynamics of social media, and the increasing saturation of digital publics with collective and individual emotions, a demand for academic accounts emerged in societies asking for help to understand, mitigate, and eventually fruitfully engage with the sentiments and moods driving many contemporary conflicts. That many of these conflicts are occurring within today’s digital media ecologies makes media and communication research a vital contribution to advance and safeguard democracy, social cohesion, and well-being.

But this focus on the “darker” side of affect and emotion should not overshadow that our field also has a tradition in researching affect and emotion in areas such as entertainment or advertising and that there are contexts and topics in society where new and more productive approaches to affect and emotion are explored, such as in journalism, social movements, gender and sexuality, migration, and health.

With the TWG, we want to create a platform that invites scholars from European institutions who study the numerous notions, practices and influences of affect and emotion to share their insights and collaborate to eventually make sense of and provide answers to the pressing issues of our time connected to affect, emotion and media. Indeed, affect and emotion are central to media and communication studies as a whole, no matter which sub-field one’s research stems from and across all countries in Europe and beyond.

What is the role of emotions in media and society?

Affect and emotions are among the structuring elements in public discourse, present as mobilizing factors in social movements, media coverage of current issues, and public policies. But they also help us to connect to others, express ourselves, feel entertained and engaged and holistically experience the human condition. Just as an example: This richness became quite visible in the discussions around public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, with different actors vying for dominance about how the public should feel about social distancing, vaccinations and other measures.

Many governments around the world employed communication campaigns to dispel fears and concerns whereas populists and extremists drew on conspiracy myths to stoke those fears. At the same time, many individuals practicing social distancing were seeking mediated emotional connectedness and ways of coping with the distress. This highlighted how media technologies increasingly shape our lives not only as members of societies but also on the most intimate and personal level of our everyday relationships.

What about emotions in academia? Do they have a place there?

Concerning academia, there are multiple aspects of interest. Not only is there a growing scholarly interest in the topic but there is also more reflexivity about the researcher’s own emotions and their emotional labor. As many of us are researching topics that have become polarized in the public debate, we as scholars are also being targeted by strong emotional reactions. For example, managing hate speech unfortunately has become common among scholars who study issues such as migration, extremism, gender and sexuality.

Some fields of study are also increasingly being attacked viciously in the public arena. We hope that the TWG can also offer a platform for discussions on how employers, namely universities and research institutes as well as funders can support our work and academic freedom. And this responsibility goes even further when we see that affect and emotion are strong components in discussions about our working conditions, academic careers, hierarchies and the structures within academic institutions.

From your perspective, how can emotions be examined?

There are various methodological approaches: quantitative, qualitative, computational, mixed-methods. Scholars also analyze emotions in widely different contexts, from media texts to interviews with certain actors. For example, ethnographic methods look at different scales of mediated communication: production, circulation, text, visuality, participation, use and reception.

Fields such as public relations research and media psychology also have a special interest in affect and emotion and often employ experimental research designs to measure them. Computational methods approaches, such as sentiment analysis introduced new ways to detect affect and emotion in large data sets.

One challenge many scholars share, regardless of their preferred methods, is analyzing affect and emotion beyond „manifest emotions“, i.e. those that get clearly named in communication. Instead, it is also important to analyze notions and practices that are emotion-based or the circulation of emotions in more implicit ways. Emotions as driving forces are not always explicitly communicated.

What are the key plans for your TWG?

Our first constitutive meeting will take place at the ECC in Aarhus next year, so this will be the place for first discussions on future plans with the TWG members. During the conference and especially at our first business meeting, we would like to find out what interests and perspectives the members have and what they expect from the TWG.

Leading up to the EEC, we will host a virtual pre-conference in which researchers can get to know each other through various decentralized formats and will get the chance to hold in-depth discussions on methods. The ECC will feature our very first panel, which will draw on the top papers submitted to the TWG Affect, Emotion & Media. In the future, we would like to organize joint panels with other sections and TWGs that might focus on issues such as gaming, journalism, migration, and diversity. In non-ECC years, our goal is to organize events that enable intensive exchange around key questions and methods.

Together with our online communication channels, these gatherings will help connect researchers in Europe who are working on topics relating to affect, emotion and media. These connections will be essential for refining or further developing theories and methods through cooperation.

How many people are in your TWG? Can ECREA members join your TWG?

We currently have 64 members from all over Europe with very diverse research backgrounds. All interested ECREA members are more than welcome to join the TWG! It is quite easy to do so: Just access your profile on the ECREA intranet, click on “update profile” and select the TWG Affect, Emotion & Media. That way, we can keep you up to date on the next TWG events, news and publications from its members. You can also follow the TWG on Twitter: @AffectTWG_ECREA. We are also looking for a young scholar who wants to become the YECREA representative of our TWG. Get in contact if you are interested in that position!



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