Human Geographical Research – Part two: Affect

Affect Geography

In affect geography, the body is perceived as transpersonal rather than personal. The body is seen as a tool that challenges the expression of emotion—in this case the non-psychological location. It is not a source for testimonial evidence to which personal experiences are subject for analysis, but a tool that would let researchers reveal the trans-human, non-cognitive, and inexpressible that underlies social life although indirectly or unknowingly (Pile, 2009:11).

If emotional geography perceives the body as a way of identifying and recognizing human differences—the human factor in humanity; then affectual geography’s perception of the body is social—a priori to its personal experiences, and universal—that it is part of a collective. Ergo, the body is an important subject and is taken very seriously both by emotion and affect geography but is interpreted and perceived differently. Both argues that the body is a social production that tends to generalize or universalise the body—either by presumptions that the personal lays beyond the social or by presumptions that transpersonal nonhuman goes beyond the production of humanness (Pile, 2009:11).

As emotional geography focuses on represented emotions or expressed emotions; affect geography on the other hand focuses on the non-represented; the difference thus lie with respect to the representability of emotions and affects. “Non-representational theory emphasises the importance of inexpressible affects” (Pile, 2009: 12). And while some geographers would often use the terms affect and emotion interchangeably, emotion is more associated with specific, identifiable, empirical feelings and sensation that is felt by individual subjects; affect on the other hand is non-individualized and mobilized conceptually rather than having an empirical basis (Bondi, 2005: 437).

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Approaches to Affect Geography

Affect geography, according to Thrift (2004) is “a form of thinking, often indirect and nonreflective, it is true, but thinking all the same. And, similarly, all manner of the spaces which they generate must be thought of in the same way, as means of thinking and as thought in action.” With the working definition, he also suggested that affect geography could therefore be approached in four ways. First, affect as a representation of practices that construct overt behaviour as product of common day-to-day interaction. From this context, the emotion usually comes not from the body, but from the external environment (2004: 60).

In this case, affect geography could be approached or used in studying the patterns of daily life and how the disruption on these patterns could evoke particular emotion. This translation focuses on how external environment triggers the emotion that is not present in the usual pattern of interaction but limits its analysis on the superficial and finds its weakness in understanding as to why a particular disruption in the pattern would elicit a particular emotion and if that emotion would be a general reaction, or a cross-cultural one.

The second approach to affect is anchored on the psychoanalytic framework and is based on the notion of drive. It follows the Freudian premise of sexual urges as the root cause for human motivation and identity (Thrift, 2004: 61).

Of course this approach to affect is highly debatable but this translation do have grounds that libido and sexual urges have great impacts in affecting and influencing even the most rational of minds. However, focusing on the sexual urges alone undermines all other aspects and put all other human dynamics that could influence emotion out of balance.

Third translation to affect geography is a realistic representation that centers on combining competencies through relations and interaction in a world which is constantly becoming. In this sense, affect is the byproduct of an active encounter that takes the form of the ability of the body and mind alike—either increasingly or decreasingly, to act: if positively it increases that ability and if negatively, diminishes the ability (Thrift, 2004: 61-62).

With this approach we find that the body and mind is inseparable ad must react in unison with the external environment. The significance of this approach lies on its emphasis on the importance of relation between the mind and body and how both simultaneously react to the complex elements of the exterior environment to evoke emotion.

The last approach to affect is Darwinian. The premise of this approach is that emotion is universal and is the result of evolution. However, expressions of emotion are cross-cultural—i.e. body posture, movement, gestures, facial expression and voice modulation. Proponents of this approach have also expounded their approach to include the communicative properties of emotions. And also added that there are at least five universal emotions that transcends all cultural barriers—anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and enjoyment (Thrift, 2004: 63-64).

Though the Darwinian approach presents a holistic and in-depth approach to affect geography, claiming that there are emotions that transcend cultural barriers would be undermining the social experience that could influence the attitude behind a particular emotion and thus undermining the understanding as to the cultural aspect of the production of the emotional reaction in relation to spatial environment.

Affect and Emotion Geography: Putting the Puzzle Together

Affect and Emotion geography, despite being two different fields, are often times used together—even interchangeable in some research; because of the common grounds that the two specialized fields share despite their very distinct characteristics: these are, according to Pile (2009): “ (1) relational ontologies that privilege fluidity; (2) valuing proximity and intimacy; and (3) an ethnomethodological predisposition” (2009: 10).

The fluidity of both emotion and affect could be seen in their mobility—while emotions move, affects circulate—both having a place for establishing patterns of emotions. They are both interested in the movement and interaction between people and other things, they are unbounded. Yet despite their unrestrained characteristic, both emotion and affect are channelled in some form (Pile, 2009: 10).

Another key feature of their similarity is the value they both place in proximity and intimacy but is again interpreted differently—emotional geography focuses on people and their personal feelings while affect geography is more interested in interpreting and understanding the ‘hidden’ cause of emotions through analysis of representations—collective experiences rather than separate analysis of personal accounts (Pile, 2009: 11). Moreover, the way both approaches perceive and interpret the body and emotion is on opposite viewpoint but finds common ground that it should be approached intimately, humanly, and personally.

Lastly, both emotion and affect geography rely on ethnographic methods to pursue research. Because of the qualitative predisposition of the studies, ethnographic methodologies such as questionnaires, observation, and interviews are the most common form of research methodology in gathering data.


The ability of emotion and affect geography to connect an outside audience I believe is its greatest strength and its enduring quality. Despite cross-cultural differences, there is that invisible thread that connects us that is usually undermined on quantitative researches.

Though emotion and affect geography’s weakness largely remain to be its political nature, or sometimes the highly-gendering of emotion as is the approach of feminism and feminist movement, emotion and affect’s weakness could be minimized through the effective use of its data gathering method by using a myriad of ethnographic method for triangulation and data verification. This would tend to lessen subjectivity and produce a more objective and holistic interpretation of the data results and thus produce an insightful and better understanding of the subject that is being researched.

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Reference List

Anderson, K. and Smith, S. (2001) ‘Editorial: Emotional Geographies’,Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 26, pp. 7-10.

Barker, C. (2008) Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice,3rdedition, London: Sage Publications.

Bondi, L. (2005). ‘Making Connections and Thinking Through Emotions: Between Geography and Psychotherapy’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 30, pp. 433-448.

Fouberg, E. H., Murphy, A. B. and de Blij, H. J. (2009) Human Geography: People, Place, and Culture, 9th edition, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Pile, S. J. (2009) ‘Emotions and Affect in Recent Human Geography’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 35, pp. 5-20.

Thierstein, A. and Schein, E. (2008). ‘Emerging Cities on the Arabian Peninsula: Urban Space in the Knowledge Economy Context’, International Journal of Architectural Research, vol. 2, issue 2, pp. 178-195.

Thrift, N. (2004). ‘Intensities of Feeling: Towards A Spatial Politics of Affect’,Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography, vol. 86, issue 1, pp. 57-78.

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