Gender and Affect

In recent decades, the emergence of gender as a major analytical category in the humanities and social sciences has allowed scholars to explore the construction of social norms and the sexual organization of society in new and fruitful ways.

Among the ones often emphasized are socially constructed, gender-specific modalities of affective expressions, which are shaped by culture, social milieu, intertextualities and history. Altogether, this analytical lens allows for a better comprehension of the ways in which gender norms shape individual affective experiences and emotional lives, and also the manner in which these are socially expressed and perceived. Moreover, it reveals gender inequalities in the attribution of distinct social roles to women and men within a gender-binary framework, informing as well the political debates around it.

While culturally shaped gendered norms of emotion management have been widely discussed, a pressing yet scarcely discussed question relates to how the construction of gender norms impacts how individuals experience affects. What role affect plays in the (re)production of gender(s)? How does it correlate with different sexual orientations and gender identities? How individuals’ affectivities influence the social processes of gender norm construction as well as their reproduction and/or transformation over time? Such questions tackle affect as a means of gender normalization and transformation as well as the significance of deeply entrenched normative dimensions of gender roles for affective experiences. Heated debates concerning heteronormative social orders, practices of shaming non-normative positions and the use of outrage as tool in struggles for diverging gender politics provide vivid examples of the stabilizing and the transformative capacities of affect with regard to gender norms. Moreover, affects play a key role in individual lives with regard to the performance of gender roles, sexual desires and gendered interpersonal relations – with significant impact on how they support, re-negotiate, bend or question norms in their private and the public spheres.

Taking these thoughts as a starting point, the working group will trace how the study of affect can help us dig deeper into the role of gender in societies. In order to do so, the group will discuss pre-existing literature as well as empirical findings from the participants’ individual research projects.


Jean-Baptiste Pettier