Affect and Pedagogy

As a student or a teacher, are you emotional in public?

And if so, what did you make of the fierce review offered by James D. Williams in the November 2005 College English? I was looking at it again for its angle on the personal, but on a second read, it struck me as absolutely blistering in its privileging of rationality above all else, and it made me — someone who scores so far over at the “T” end of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that it’s not even funny — uncomfortable in that regard. Williams was talking about standards of evidence for academic texts, and while I agree that careful analysis quantitative data for such purposes is essential, I’d also propose that alternative forms of evidence are equally as important. In fact, I wonder whether the bruising critique Williams offers, in its supreme privileging of hyper-rationality and alleged objectivity, fails to allow for alternative possibilities.

Laura Micciche, in an essay I find somewhat problematic for its generalizations (“When Class Equals Crass,” in Blundering for a Change, Tassoni and Thelin, eds., Boynton/Cook 2000), suggests that working-class students are encouraged to “exercise ‘appropriate’ emotions” (25) because “emotions such as anger, rage, and sorrow are generally considered unacceptable in the classroom” (31). But the perspective Micciche offers is important for its view on the work of affect, although I worry that it’s too easy to perpetuate a binary that equates emotion with the working class and logic with the middle class, and I think that’s a class-bigoted simplification — not that Micciche is performing it, but I worry that the distinctions she sets up make it an easy place to which to go.

There’s an simple question: Are working-class students more emotional?

It’s a bad question, and the wrong question. Lynn Worsham argues (nod to the recent UMass guest speaker) that people separated by the reason/emotion binary are taught that emotion should be subordinate to reason and so that people categorized as “emotional” should take subordinate positions in society as well. Indeed, Micciche cites Spelman’s observation that “while members of subordinate groups are expected to be emotional, indeed to have their emotions run their lives, their anger will not be tolerated” (Spelman 264, qtd. in Micciche 33).

I’ve quoted before Hardt and Negri’s assertion that in today’s emerging economy, there are three varieties of immaterial labor: first, “an industrial production that has been informationalized,” second, “analytical and symbolic tasks,” and third, the emotional work involved in “the production and manipulation of affect” (293).

Political economy is personal, and the economy is affectual. This holds true for the classroom as much as for any other space.

Affect and Pedagogy