Interview with Megan Boler: From
‘Feminist Politics of Emotions’
to the ‘Affective Turn’
Megan Boler and Michalinos Zembylas
Abstract In this interview Megan Boler discusses with Michalinos Zembylas her
work during the 1980s and 1990s on “feminist politics of emotion”. A feminist
politics of emotion is historically grounded in the popular slogan of second wave
feminism, the “personal is political”. This shift to understanding emotions as col-
lectively and socially produced and constructed rather than as private and indi-
vidualized experiences represented a radical shift in theory and praxis concerning
emotions and education. A feminist politics of emotion encourages scholars to
analyze and understand the role of emotions in epistemology, ethics, cultural values
and beliefs, and in the construction of social relations and hierarchies. The interview
highlights the often overlooked histories of feminist pedagogies as a development
from the second wave of feminism, and their pioneering attention to the role of
emotions in education, learning, and knowledge production. This approach is
contrasted with more recent theorizing of ‘affect’, that draws on Spinoza and
continues to develop in the work on what is presently termed “new materialism”.
Keywords Affect theory Feminism Pedagogy Politics Emotions Gender
Second-wave feminism Social construction of emotions Consciousness-raising
The purpose of this short introduction is to provide readers a brief overview of
Megan Boler’s work on emotions and educations since the landmark publication of
her book Feeling Power: Emotions and Education (1999) and her highly inﬂuential
M. Boler (&)
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Program of Educational Studies, Open University of Cyprus, Latsia, Cyprus
©Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
M. Zembylas and P.A. Schutz (eds.), Methodological Advances
in Research on Emotion and Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29049-2_2
contribution to the scholarship on the politics of emotions. Boler’s book was one of
the ﬁrst publications in education that not only touched on the taboo issue of
emotions in education but also it did so in epistemologically and methodologically
innovative ways. She labels her approach ‘a feminist politics of emotion’. Highly
relevant to education, her approach alerts us to the idea that emotions are a site of
socio-political control and therefore cannot be understood outside culture and
ideology. Further, her work emphasizes how and when emotions function as a
mode of resistance to dominant norms. These epistemological views have important
methodological implications in terms of how one studies emotion in education.
In this interview, Boler reﬂects on the histories of scholarship regarding emo-
tions in their socio-political contexts. and the scholarship on the politics of emotions
in particular that emerged both from feminist legacies in educational praxis as well
as early feminist interventions from different disciplinary perspectives. Boler dis-
cusses the promises and challenges of cross-and multi-disciplinary, as well as
politicized approaches to the study of emotions. The interview concludes by
highlighting the risks of an apolitical ‘affective turn’, and contrasts the recent
developments in scholarship on affect with earlier, 1980s scholarship on feminist
politics of emotion.
Michalinos Zembylas (MZ):Your book “Feeling Power: Emotions and
Education”(1999) explicitly invokes ‘a feminist politics of emotion’. Can you tell
us why you chose this approach in relation to the study of emotion? What are the
strengths and weaknesses of a feminist politics of emotion? How would you
describe its methodological valence?
Megan Boler (MB): I chose this approach because of the longstanding cultural
and historical associations of women with emotions, not to mention the fact that at
the time I commenced this work it was solely feminist scholars who dared to
mention emotion as a legitimate scholarly topic. In the early 1980s when I began
graduate studies in philosophy, it quickly became clear that despite increasing
interest in pushing epistemological boundaries (e.g., within philosophy of science),
the idea that emotion might play a substantive role in our economies of attention, in
our conceptualizations of knowledge and processes of knowledge acquisition, in
ethical and moral evaluation–such notions were not yet popular by any stretch of
This pointed disregard of emotions’roles and place in such arenas as episte-
mology, ethics, and education is most certainly tied to its gendered associations. The
trans-cultural, trans-historical associations of emotion with women represent, to this
day, paradoxical contradictions of cultural myths and ideologies. The idea that
women are innately, biologically “too emotional”to function as proper political
citizens, for example, within the public sphere, is a persistent myth which neatly
coincides with cultural demands for women to embody particular kinds of emotion
(ality), and to teach proper values and ethics to children by virtue of women’s
(“natural”) emotional sensitivities. These contradictory cultural suppositions about
women and emotion demonstrate the critical need for “feminist politics of emotion”
to disrupt and intervene in these retrograde and patriarchal ideologies. These ide-
ologies simultaneously penalize women for being “biologically”“over-emotional”,
18 M. Boler and M. Zembylas
and thus too “irrational”to serve in positions of political power; while also requiring
women to cultivate her emotionality in order to serve as ideal mothers and teachers.
The methodological valence of a feminist politics of emotion can be understood as
drawing centrally upon a lens that asks us to rethink the rigid binaries deﬁning Western
thought. For example, a feminist politics of emotion often begins by drawing from the
popular slogan of second wave feminism, the “personal is political,”to analyze and
understand the role of emotions in epistemology, ethics, cultural values and beliefs,
and in the construction of social relations and hierarchies (Echols 1989;MacKinnon
1989). The feminist rallying cry of the “personal is political”redeﬁned frequently
dismissed “personal”issues including emotions and other experiences as in fact highly
relevant to politics and to the public sphere. For example, feminist
consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s empowered participants to redeﬁne
women’s anger as a healthy sign of resistance to oppression, rather than as a patho-
logical symptom of her personal failings. By expressing and sharing previously hidden
and silenced emotions in these collective spaces, women had the opportunity to
integrate emotions as knowledge with critical reﬂection, thereby supporting women’s
political organization against male-domination (Boler 1999; Campbell 1994).
MZ: As you are suggesting, a feminist politics of emotion has to do with how
women are excluded on the grounds of their “irrationality”. But do you think that
this approach is still relevant today given that there has been a relative ‘progress’
in women’s positions in the public arena?
MB: Absolutely, this approach remains relevant. Although we’ve seen some
progress in terms of women’s inclusion in political and public spheres, the facts of
gender inequality speak for themselves: of the top Fortune 500 CEOs, 4.6 % are
women; the number of women in governmental positions of power is extremely
few, though a handful of women were elected or appointed during the 21st century;
and the shocking under representation of women in sectors like science, tech,
engineering and math (STEM) reveals a “leaky pipeline”: no matter the vigilance of
educational systems trying to increase the number of women being “fed”into these
male-dominated ﬁelds, the percentage of women becoming PhDs or leading
research scientists is not rising. Women remain vastly under represented in spheres
of political and economic power; and when women are permitted such positions,
they are subject to extraordinary sexual harassment and double-standards not
inﬂicted on their male counterparts.
In the end, more notable than the limited progress increasing women’s positions
of power, is the highly successful backlash against feminism and the effective
propaganda campaign claiming we are now ‘post-feminist’and ‘sexism is over!’
What does a “feminist politics of emotion”have to do with questions like gender
inequality around the world? For one thing, studies of the “leaky pipeline”failing to
feed women into STEM areas, for example, cannot seem to understand or solve the
“problem”. At the same time, again and again through the decades we learn that
women are excluded by the “culture”(read, hostility, sexual harassment) of “boy’s
clubs,”whether that be spaces in academia, politics, or private corporate
sectors. The effective exclusion of women depends signiﬁcantly on the affective
realm, on hierarchies that are produced and maintained by ensuring that no one
2 Interview with Megan Boler …19
threatens patriarchal social order (or what bell hooks (1994) refers to as “white
supremacist capitalist patriarchy”). Similarly, women around the world are taught to
abide by gendered norms that impose compulsory heterosexuality and deny
reproductive choice. These gendered norms rely, arguably most stringently, on
internalized emotions and affective rules, as evidenced by the scholarship that
pioneered a feminist politics of emotion.
In their Introduction to The Affect Theory Reader, Gregg and Seigworth (2010)
outline eight orientations to the theorization of affect. One of these they describe as
“politically—engaged work—perhaps most often undertaken by feminists, queer
theorists, disability activists, and subaltern peoples living under the thumb of a
normativizing power—that attend to the hard and fast materialities, as well as the
ﬂeeting and ﬂowing ephemera, of the daily and the workday…and of ‘experience’
(understood in ways far more collective and ‘external’rather than individual and
interior…)”(p. 7) This formulation most closely parallels what I term the feminist
politics of emotion.
So in sum, yes—vigilance is still required in the ongoing struggle to include
women in public spheres (see Boler et al. 2014), and to achieve anything like equity
in positions of power. A feminist politics of emotion is necessarily inter-and
multidisciplinary, drawing from diverse feminist theories and disciplinary frame-
works. Whatever its shortcomings, the women's liberation movement paved the
way for women’s studies and feminist theory to ﬁnd a place within educational and
intellectual contexts. And ‘the personal is political’as a basis for a feminist ped-
agogies provides a useful starting point for radical educational praxis.
MZ: What was the impact of this approach to education and pedagogy in
particular—both as a site of politics and research?
As the women’s liberation movement swept North America and parts of Europe
from the late 1960s into the 1980s, the ﬁght for women’s rights included the
historic-ﬁrst establishment of women’s studies programs and ‘feminist pedagogies’.
Emotions were identiﬁed as core to the liberatory work of feminist pedagogies,
which—as a political arm of the women’s movement–served as a politicizing,
embodied intervention for social change, seeking spaces for women in the hallowed
halls of higher education where women had been not only refused a place at the
table, but stereotyped as the antithesis of logos and reason (Rich 1979; Culley and
Portuges 1985). Questions about the role of emotions in knowledge and learning,
pioneered by feminist educators, developed alongside Freirean, critical and radical
pedagogies, though feminist pedagogies received much less recognition, to this day.
As one scholar deﬁnes it:
Feminist pedagogy is grounded in the primary goal of social change. The foundations of
feminist pedagogy can be unlocked by looking at its origins in grassroots political activity.
Women’s consciousness-raising groups that formed in the late 1960s were based on
friendships, common political commitments, and discussions of shared experiences.
Furthermore, they emphasized reliance on experience and feeling, sharing common expe-
riences in collective leaderless groups, and the shared assumption that understanding and
theoretical analysis were the ﬁrst steps towards revolutionary change. (Sayles-Hannon
2007, p. 35)
20 M. Boler and M. Zembylas
Feminist pedagogies embrace key principles, such as: attending to power rela-
tions (including those between teacher and student); valuing personal experience
and emotion as these inform knowledge and learning; and transforming injustice
through reﬂexive praxis. Audre Lorde’s inspiring public speeches delivered in the
late 1970s and her brilliant essays (collected in Sister/Outsider, 1984) challenged
not only axioms of Western thought but white feminist assumptions, and consis-
tently highlighted the importance of emotion as exempliﬁed in her essay “Poetry is
Not a Luxury.”bell hooks’(1981) title invoked Sojourner Truth’s demand, “Ain’tI
a Woman?,”reminding feminists of ongoing questions regarding who has the
power to deﬁne “women,”not only during the women’s suffrage movement, but
still today. Women of color increasingly challenged the unaddressed racist
assumptions of second wave feminism, including the white, middle-class concerns
common to consciousness-raising, concerns that often didn’t apply to their sisters of
color (Echols 1989; Moraga and Anzaldúa1981).
After the early interventions of feminist pedagogies, it is predominantly feminist
scholars from the mid 1970s who began to pioneer new scholarly directions related
to the politics of emotion. These include the work of anthropologist Michelle
Rosaldo (1974), philosopher Marilyn Frye (1983), educational philosopher Nel
Noddings (1984). In her groundbreaking work The Managed Heart:
Commercialization of Human Feeling, sociologist Arlie Hochschild (1983) con-
tributed a study of women stewards’“emotional labor”in the airline industry,
illustrating key concepts such as “feeling rules”(p. 17) and “emotion work”(p. 7).
In 1989 philosopher Alison Jaggar follows political theorist Catherine
MacKinnon’s (1981) assertion that ‘consciousness raising is to feminism what labor
is to Marxism,’when she develops a signiﬁcant epistemological intervention in her
essay, “Love and Knowledge”(1989): “Critical reﬂection on emotion is not a
self-indulgent substitute for political analysis and political action. It is itself a kind
of political theory and political practice, indispensable for an adequate social theory
and social transformation”(Jaggar 1989, p. 64). Like MacKinnon, Jaggar’s argu-
ment counters the Marxist critique
that reﬂecting on subjective experience is a
bourgeois cultural endeavor not necessary for political revolution. Outlining
“emotional hegemony and emotional subversion”, (p. 159) Jaggar coined the term
“outlaw emotions”(p. 160) which represents a radical intervention in the hege-
monic discourses that naturalize womens’emotions as pathological and personal.
She argues that “by forming our emotional constitution in particular ways, our
society helps to ensure its own perpetuation. The dominant values are implicit in
responses taken to be precultural; or acultural, our so-called gut responses”(Jaggar
1989, p. 160; see also Lutz and Abu-Lughod 1990). By contrast, outlaw emotions
are “incompatible with the dominant perceptions and values, and some, though
certainly not all, of these outlaw emotions are potentially or actually feminist
emotions”(Jaggar 1989, p. 161).
Also bridging this divide between Marxism and the question of emotions, in 1981 The Socialist
Review published U.C. Berkeley scholar Peter Lyman’s pioneering essay, “The Politics of Anger”.
2 Interview with Megan Boler …21
In sum, the women’s liberation movement not only developed feminist peda-
gogies that explicitly valued emotions as knowledge, but as well, laid the
groundwork for the ﬁrst women’s studies departments established in higher edu-
cation. By the early 1980s, feminist scholarship had gained legitimate institutional
spaces and tactics (such as feminist pedagogies) to challenge the patriarchal binaries
of emotion/reason that silence and dismiss emotions within realms of learning and
MZ: How, then, do you perceive contemporary scholarship on the so called
MB: Affect theory emerged in the mid-1990s, and continues to trend as one of
the more popular areas of contemporary scholarship. The “affective turn”may be
understood as having two primary lines of inquiry: a trajectory that builds from the
psychoanalytic work of Silvan Tomkins; and a second trajectory that draws on the
philosophy of Baruch Spinoza as highlighted ﬁrst by Deleuze and Guattari and then
Brian Massumi. This second line of inquiry distinguishes feeling as “personal”;
emotion as a “socio-linguistic ﬁxing”or “qualiﬁed intensity”(Massumi 1995, p. 7);
and affect as “a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed
and unstructured potential. …[A]ffect cannot be fully realised in language, and …
is always prior to and/or outside of consciousness (Shouse 2005).
The affective turn has done us the major service of popularizing the study of
emotion and affect. To date, however, this now fashionable arena relies heavily on a
couple of oft-cited readings/uses of Spinoza, and thus a great deal of what counts as
“affect theory”is not even secondary but tertiary readings or even further removed,
from original sources. This also results in confusions such as presuming that the
hypothesized “autonomy of affect”is a concept foundational to all “affect theory”or
to Spinoza’s philosophy. In fact, the “autonomy of affect”(Massumi 2002)isa
concept built on an (unreplicated) empirical study that found a “gap”between the
affect experienced in the body and the conscious “registering”of that affect.
Scholars have attached themselves fervently to this “gap”and its apparently vast
promise of affect’s“freedom”, giving hope in the bleak, post-post-modernist
landscape where “agency”seems lost forever. While there is much more to be said,
it is fascinating to witness the incredible appeal of an embodied force not “polluted”
or “constrained”by the familiar traps of cognition and consciousness.
Along these lines, affect theorists’centrally engage ‘capacities’,‘potential’,‘how
bodies affect one another’–concepts sufﬁciently open-ended, and bordering on
poetic, to enable scholars to interpret/riff on these sexy themes without pushing the
more demanding socio-political implications of such accounts. (Quite similarly,
Raymond Williams’(1977) concept of the “structures of feeling”expressed a
similarly exciting zeitgeist, and since Williams did not develop the concept at
length, its open-ended quality allows for generous interpretation; generations of
scholars have been able to use “structures of feeling”in every conceivable way).
In their Introduction to The Affect Theory Reader, Gregg and Seigworth (2010)
outline eight orientations to theorizing affect. One of these they describe as
“politically-engaged work–perhaps most often undertaken by feminists, queer
theorists, disability activists, and subaltern peoples living under the thumb of a
22 M. Boler and M. Zembylas
normativizing power–that attend to the hard and fast materialities, as well as the
ﬂeeting and ﬂowing ephemera, of the daily and the workday…and of ‘experience’
(understood in ways far more collective and ‘external’rather than individual and
interior…)”. (Gregg and Seigworth 2010, p. 7) This formulation most closely
parallels what I term the feminist politics of emotion.
What I ﬁnd most puzzling about the ‘affective turn’is the resounding silence
about the feminist interventions we’ve discussed here, interventions that arguably
laid the groundwork for the popular uptake of “affect theory”in this 21st century.
Thinking generously, one might forgive the absence of attention to feminist
scholarly pioneers; but even putting feminist histories aside, given the persisting
binaries that link women with emotion, men with reason–surely gender (and race,
and class) are central to analyses of affect within patriarchal cultures? Without
attention to socio-political hierarchies maintained by “feeling rules”and resisted by
“outlaw emotions,”affect theory falls short of its potential as theory that can be put
to work. Just as the ﬁelds of cultural studies have been challenged to engage their
theories with praxis, so must affect theory be concerned with praxis, with materi-
ality and everyday life that grounds such theory. But perhaps this hope merely
reveals my own commitments to public intellectualism and activism, to discerning
where the rubber hits the road, as they say. Personally, I am less interested in
developing techniques for literary and cultural analysis, than I am in the
socio-political implications of our scholarship.
Gregg and Seigworth pose a related concern to Grossberg, and ask “Is it possible
that affect itself has been over invested by theory? Is there a way that affect lets one
off the hook…?”(2010, p. 314)
I do think that affect can let you off the hook. Because it has come to serve, now, too often
as a ‘magical’term. So, if something has effects that are, let’s say, non-representational then
we can just describe it as “affect”. So, I think there is a lot of theorizing that does not do the
harder work of specifying modalities and apparatuses of affect, or distinguishing affect from
other sorts of non-semantic effects, or, as I said, analyzing the articulations between…the
ontological and the ‘empirical’. I think that sometimes affect lets people off the hook
because it lets them appeal back to an ontology that escapes. (p. 315)
It is worth noting that to the extent that ‘affect’now functions as the magical
catch-all term, it replaces some of the ways in which the psychoanalytic concept of
the “unconscious”functioned (prior to the ‘affective turn’) as a way to account for
the many ‘leakages’and escapes of emotions and affect, its myriad ways of resisting
our capture, articulation measurement, perception, and consciousness.
Indeed, for those interested in the political signiﬁcance of emotions and affect,
‘affect’is now all too easily invoked as a gesture towards the virtual, the possible–
potential, and capacities. However, the most recent emergence of “new material-
ism”and “agential realism”(Barad 2012) suggests promising directions for
rethinking the “virtual”and perhaps grounding this more helpfully within entangled
MZ: To go back to an idea you said earlier about a feminist politics of emotion
being “necessarily inter-and multidisciplinary”, I would like to ask you how
contemporary work on affect can beneﬁt from more inter-and multi-disciplinary
2 Interview with Megan Boler …23
approaches. To put this differently, what does this imply in terms of how we study
emotion and affect?
MB: Contemporary analyses of emotion necessarily must draw upon multi-,
cross-, and interdisciplinary studies. The need for such interdisciplinary approaches
are required precisely because of the complexity of emotion. Firstly, what might we
even mean by emotion–the feel, the physiological state? Do we mean ﬂeeting
emotions, triggered by obvious environmental events; moods; evaluations, cogni-
tive appraisals nonetheless informed by emotive perceptions? Do we mean emo-
tions as involuntary responses of ﬁght and ﬂight? Do we mean emotions as
socially-constructed responses to complex social contexts and cues?
The recognition of ‘where’emotion or affect might be ‘found’is, at least,
recognized as a trickier question than understood in previous historical periods and
within older disciplinary traditions. With the advent of new modalities of data
visualization–techniques of tracking and ‘measuring’affective states–the necessity
of new multi- and cross-disciplinary collaboration has never been more pressing.
Not only are emotions, as states or objects of analysis, increasingly recognized as
inhabiting or existing in different dimensions of the body, self, person, or subject
(depending on your disciplinary purview), but there is opportunity for collaborative
research and study in and of the overlapping realms in which affect is seen to
No matter the extent to which scholars develop and expand theories of affect, for
example, and no matter what roles neuroscience is understood to play in shaping
what we identify and track as emotions, socio-cultural studies of emotion will
always require analyses of the contextualizing inﬂuence of gendered ideologies that
deﬁne what counts as acceptable or “good”emotions, etc. My salient point here is
that, whatever radical changes in theorizations or sciences of affect and emotion we
may witness, the entrenched ideological aspects—such as those that inevitably
associate particular emotions, emotional labor, and the social burden of ‘character
education’with women—have not and likely will not change signiﬁcantly.
Although the gendered character of “emotional labor”is recognized a bit more
widely today than it was in the 1980s, more often than not emotionality is still used
to keep women “in their place,”contained in domestic spheres and excluded from
public and political spheres. Indeed, to answer your question, these new areas of
inquiry call for research from across the disciplines. Emotion, affect, or con-
sciousness cannot possibly be grasped by any one disciplinary approach except as a
highly partial narrative.
MZ: So, if I asked you, then, to describe the most important recent developments
(analytical/methodological/theoretical etc.) in studying emotion, affect and con-
sciousness in education in recent years, what would you say?
MB: I would cite the innovative, interdisciplinary, and proliﬁc contributions you
have made to educational studies throughout your career, Michalinos, quite seri-
ously. In addition, I would answer this by pointing to the riskiest or most potentially
“dangerous”implications of the most recent developments. And here, I see two:
ﬁrstly, the most challenging and potentially ‘dangerous’development is represented
by neuroscientiﬁc accounts of emotion that effectively reinscribe discourses of
24 M. Boler and M. Zembylas
emotions as biologically rooted, as entirely matters of nature rather than culture.
Secondly, as I have been arguing, it is apparently all too easy to erase or forget the
gendered realities of emotion and the feminist scholarship that put emotion on the
map. This risk of adding another layer of misogyny into the histories of emotion, by
erasing feminists’work, is all too real, especially if affect theorists choose not to
ignore the ways in which feminist politics of emotion and affect theory might
productively, mutually inform one another. Nonetheless, both risky directions leave
ample room to explore the implications for education, teaching and learning.
Contemporary scientiﬁc investigations and research on the brain and in the areas of
neuroscience has potentially radical signiﬁcance for studies of emotion. However,
no matter how advanced these new forms of measurement and data visualization
become, there will remain variables, idiosyncratic differences, cultural differences,
and differences in social mores and rules that govern emotional behavior, conduct,
expression, and reﬂective practices with regards to human experience of emotions.
So while some may anticipate that emotions will be entirely described and predicted
by neuro- and brain science in years to come, it would be easy to overstate how and
what such measurements and visualizations will contribute to cultural studies of
emotion and affect.
MZ: And to go back to the contribution of the ‘affective turn’in studying
emotion and emotion. How does this bear on questions of emotion and affect?
MB: Critical humanities scholars may ﬁnally have an incredible opportunity to
intervene in the ethically precarious intersection of brain science, data visualization,
and the applications of these techno-scientiﬁc information into human (affect)
Patricia Clough recognizes this potential when she writes:
“Affect is also theorized in relation to the technologies that are allowing us both
to ‘see’affect and to produce affective bodily capacities beyond the body’s
organic-physiological constraints. The techno scientiﬁc experimentation with affect
not only traverses the opposition of the organic and the nonorganic; it also inserts
the technical into felt vitality, the felt aliveness given in the pre-individual bodily
capacities to act, to engage, to connect—to affect and be affected. The affective turn,
therefore, expresses a new conﬁguration of bodies, technology and matter that is
instigating a shift in thought in critical theory.”(2010, pp. 2–3).
The most promising areas of scholarly development that will, I believe, become
increasingly indispensable in our studies of emotion will be work such as that of
Manuel DeLanda (2013), Rosi Braidotti (2013) and Karen Barad (2012), often
associated with new materialism, who bring complexity theory to bear on studies of
the social and biological. Manuel DeLanda’s(2013) book Intensive Science and
Virtual Philosophy outlines dynamical systems theory, differential geometry, and
complexity theory, all of which can expand the current invocations of Spinoza’s
notions of capacities and potentials of bodies. Such analyses of multiplicities and
the manifold provide innovative directions for understanding the materiality of
entanglements, contradictions, and frictions that constitute the realities of affect and
emotions in their relational contexts.
2 Interview with Megan Boler …25
Arguing against notions of ‘essence’(such as the commonly accepted
assumption that the essence of being human is to be a “rational animal,”Massumi
2002,p.2)–i.e., pre-determined, a priori or otherwise ahistorical traits presumed to
transcend individual instances—DeLanda (2013) draws on a Deleuzian ontology
that replaces the notion of ﬁxed essence with the morphogenetic process. A focus
on this process understands species as “historically constituted entities”rather than
a timeless category (DeLanda 2013, p. 8). This underscores a dynamic rather than
static way of accounting for identities, differences, and similarities. DeLanda thus
radically sidesteps essentialism by drawing on notions of multiplicities and the
manifold (2013); drawing from Deleuze, he outlines in this book how “multiplic-
ities specify the structure of spaces of possibilities”(p. 10). Multiplicities are
“concrete universals”(p. 13); unlike an essence, the “universality of a multiplicity is
typically divergent”(p. 22) and the focus on multiplicity over essence allows for a
theory of progressive differentiation.
How does this bear on questions of emotion and affect? My suggestion is that, in
fact, the most robust work in new materialism can be productively put into con-
versation with scholarship on emotion and affect from across disciplines. We need
an ontology of affects that recognizes the dynamic and non-static relationality
within time and space, that simultaneously allows us to speak in some generalities
about particular affects or emotions, but also to understand how singular instances
of emotion and affect–while part of a dynamic process described by such notions as
that of multiplicities–are signiﬁcant in their very differentiation.
Related to the issue of understanding multiplicity and differentiation as described
by dynamical relation theory, another challenge for future studies is to understand
how contemporary scholarship on affect can pay tribute to feminist, historical
predecessors. The scholars engaging feminist politics of emotion courageously
blazed trails into Western Enlightenment theory with radical new theorizations of
emotions. These accounts understand emotions to be embedded in the materiality of
lived experience. How do socially- and culturally-constructed rules of emotion
deﬁne identities, determine communities, and which bodies are permitted the
privilege to express which emotions?
By taking into account the gendered and feminist histories that form the bedrock
of emotion and affect’s‘place’within Western culture and discourses, work on
affect might be able to deliver much-needed interventions into “binarized”scholarly
discourses that still shun emotion and affect. With due recognition to these feminist
and gendered histories, scholars can acknowledge the pioneering intellectual and
political histories that made the ‘affective turn’possible.
MZ: Turning to your current research, how do you position your approach
nowadays in relation to the developments in studying emotions in education in
MB: Sarah Ahmed’s(2004) work resonates closely with my own commitment to
the feminist politics of emotions. As Gregg and Seigworth pose in a question to
26 M. Boler and M. Zembylas
There is a strong body of feminist work on emotion and affect and, within affect theory
itself, there are deﬁnite disciplinary differences within and across philosophy, psychology,
critical race studies, and feminist standpoint theory–just to name a few. We’re thinking
especially of the way that women have historically been associated with emotion and
hysteria as part of a wider effort to distinguish particular groups as incapable of rational
thought and hence scholarly practice. Isn’t part of the continued difﬁculty then in theorizing
affect and emotion partly due to how the historical trajectory of both terms has been used to
dismiss and trivialize others in the past, and even still today? (p. 316)
It is precisely these ideological aspects of emotion’s lived experience and role in
deﬁning social hierarchies of power (intersecting not just with gender but also with
race, class, and other identifying/marginalizing categories) that continue to require
scholarly attention and intervention.
MZ: And in terms of the key challenges you see for research into emotions and
education in the next 20 years?
I see three key challenges:
1. To engage humanities and cultural studies scholarship with work in the neu-
rosciences and in affect theory, to engage non-linear complex dynamic theory to
address emotion and affect. While Massumi’s(2002) examples of autonomic
responses as signiﬁcantly constitutive of affect provides a jumping-off point,
DeLanda’s(2013) analyses of the manifold and multiplicities and Barad’s
(2012)“agential realism”and determination to “queer the binary,”offer nuanced
analyses that promise even more persuasive accounts as these are put into
conversation with affect theories.
2. In relation to education, to develop pedagogies that can engage emotions and
affect as part of the necessary work of “critical pedagogies”–pedagogies that
ensure more than what I have termed “drive-by difference”(Boler 2007) and
that invite students to reﬂexively re-evaluate closely-held assumptions, values
and beliefs within a socio-historical frame. We urgently need new pedagogies
suited to MOOCs and exponential expansion of online learning (Boler 2015).
3. Finally, we will be challenged to work against prescriptive formulations of
character education that seek to impose universalized, reductive, and/or dehis-
toricized ideas of what counts as “correct”and “proper”or suitable emotions. In a
closely related vein, the rise of neuroscience as explanatory models for emotion
are already working hand-in-hand with prescriptive educational policies and
pedagogies; neuroscience can too easily be drawn upon in reductive ways to
bolster universalized assumptions about emotions. This underscores the impor-
tance of taking up the agential realism and new materialism of DeLanda and
Barad as discussed above, approaches informed by and resonant with the work of
scholars like Braidotti and Haraway. These radical directions support our
ongoing efforts to move beyond violent Western dualisms that threaten, still, to
marginalize a feminist politics of emotions. This encourages cross-disciplinary
conversation between those interested in radical educational practices of free-
dom, and the science and policy-oriented arenas that increasingly seek to deﬁne
static emotional norms.
2 Interview with Megan Boler …27
These last two challenges require ongoing education and interventions into domi-
nant cultural values and systems, such as gendered expectations and roles discussed
earlier in our interview. To enact–much less to develop–such pedagogies goes
beyond what is emphasized in nearly all teacher education programs. And frankly,
the strongest contemporary scholarship in education that engages emotions and
pedagogies with ﬁnessed socio-political analyses is the body of work you have been
contributing since we ﬁrst met, so many years ago!
MZ: And ﬁnally, what impact would you like your work to have on epistemo-
logical and/or methodological understandings of and research on emotion in
MB: To begin with Gregg and Seigworth’s(2010) powerful quote:
There is no single, generalizable theory of affect: not yet, and (thankfully) there never will
be. If anything, it is more tempting to imagine that there can only ever be inﬁnitely multiple
iterations of affect and theories of affect: theories as diverse and singularly delineated as
their own highly particular encounters with bodies, affects, worlds. (Isn’t theory—any
theory with or without a capital T—supposed to work this way? Operating with a certain
modest methodological vitality rather than impressing itself upon a wiggling world like a
snap-on grid of shape-setting interpretability?)”(pp. 3–4)
I have already been inspired by the myriad scholars who have taken up Feeling
Power: Emotions and Education (1999) amongst my other essays in this arena, to
build upon and pioneer innovative directions of inquiry regarding emotions and
education. In terms of how my scholarship may illuminate epistemological con-
cerns: How can we expand our understandings of emotion and affect without
replicating misleading binary divisions between emotion and reason? We can, at
minimum, hone our scepticism regarding disciplinary approaches that presume
binaristic paradigms. These theoretical challenges map fairly directly onto
methodological challenges: How do we investigate various phenomenon related to
emotion and affect without reproducing the dualisms so endemic to language, to
Western thought, metaphysics, epistemologies? Given the radical and extensive
scholarship now available in nearly every discipline that challenges head-on mis-
leading presumptions of binary oppositions as somehow given (whether by nature,
God, or even social norms), there is little excuse for engaging overly-reductionistic
conceptualizations of emotion and affect.
Trained as I was under the mentorship of scholars such as Hayden White, Donna
Haraway, Helene Moglen, and Jim Clifford in the History of Consciousness
graduate program–methodology itself must be approached with healthy scepticism,
ﬁrst and foremost with attention to the performance and presentation of any
knowledge, claim about its scalability and generalizability. If we can successfully
balance this skepticism while developing novel approaches to researching emotion
and affect in its sometimes ineffable complexity, then I see hope for the future of
inter- and multidisciplinary research into emotions and education that can avoid
reproducing such pitfalls as “one size ﬁts all”character education, or easy invo-
cations of empathy as a teachable skill that serves as the panacea for all social ills.
To date, my early work in emotion and education has helped to catalyze reﬂexive
theoretical forays and praxis I hoped for but dared not imagine: a generation of
28 M. Boler and M. Zembylas
scholars who take seriously the ways in which social hierarchies of power deter-
mine who can express which emotions in what forms; who is excluded or included
by virtue of emotional norms and behaviors; and how emotions can be granted their
full and salient place within educational contexts. Emotion and affect in teaching
and learning have a profound role in epistemological and ethical reﬂexivity,
requiring a critical praxis necessary to create inclusive spaces for all voices in the
never-ﬁnished work of freedom.
I look forward to greater cross-disciplinary conversation between ﬁelds such as
educational theory, and those disciplines presently engaged in the popularized
interest in affect (such as comparative literature, continental philosophy, cultural
studies, and feminist and queer theory). The general lack of engagement with
educational studies returns us to my central point: a feminist politics of emotion is
historically rooted in the pioneering work of those committed to liberatory praxis of
feminist, critical and radical pedagogies. And just as emotions have been ignored
due to their (female) gendered association, so too is educational theory often
overlooked, in no small part because of its gendered associations, which tend to
position educational theories outside the respected purview of much scholarship.
MZ: Thank you very much Megan for this thought-provoking interview!
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Megan Boler is Professor of media and education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,
University of Toronto. Her books include Feeling Power: Emotions and Education (Routledge
1999); Democratic Dialogue in Education (Peter Lang 2004); Digital Media and Democracy:
Tactics in Hard Times (MIT Press, 2008); and DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media
(eds. Ratto and Boler, MIT Press, 2014). Her current funded research “Social Media in the Hands
of Young Citizens”is a mixed-methods study of women participants’experience in the Occupy
Wall Street movement, including interviews with women in seven North American cities.
Michalinos Zembylas is Associate Professor of Educational Theory and Curriculum Studies at the
Open University of Cyprus. He is also Visiting Professor and Research Fellow at the Institute for
Reconciliation and Social Justice, University of the Free State, South Africa. He has written
extensively on emotion and affect in relation to social justice pedagogies, intercultural and peace
education, human rights education and citizenship education. His latest book is titled Emotion and
Traumatic Conﬂict: Re-claiming Healing in Education (Oxford, 2015).
30 M. Boler and M. Zembylas