Traumas Without Bodies: A Reply to Emma Hutchison’s Affective Communities

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Fear, anxiety, shame, anger, and even love are terms that circulate throughout the literature of International Relations (IR), but, according to Emma Hutchison, not with the critical attention that they merit. Indeed, IR theory frequently embraces emotional and affective concepts, but without unpacking these terms or exploring the mechanisms that make emotion, particularly trauma, significant in world politics. Rather, dominant forms of IR theory tend to focus on rational political behaviour at the expense of an emotional understanding of the subject and political activity. While a small cadre of scholars has begun to explore how emotions supplement and challenge this traditional focus, Hutchison’s book moves beyond this debate to discuss the mechanisms of trauma and emotion that bind together or tear apart individuals, institutions, states and alliances.1 Her primary interest is in how practices of representation transform trauma into a means of making and unmaking what she terms ‘affective communities’.2 According to Hutchison, trauma is primarily processed through linguistic and non-linguistic representations that incite powerful responses to the suffering of others. Representations of traumatic events, such as a massacre or a war, serve as a key social practice that narratively sutures communities together through the incitement of common affects and sentiments. For Hutchison, these representational practices are so essential to the functioning of political life that they exist as presuppositions of many of the normative statements and habits of statecraft. Practices of traumatic representation consequently play a potent role in the formation of alliance and enmity, social organisation and institutionalisation, violence and ethics.

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Millennium: Journal of International Studies





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