Dissertation Title: Crying Together: From Precarity to Solidarity through Tears
Committee: Anne Norton (Chair), Jeffrey Green, Nancy Hirschmann, Joel Schlosser (Bryn Mawr)
Research Interests: Contemporary political thought, critical theory, emotions and politics, affect theory, queer theory, politics and literature, radical democratic thought
Summary: How do we experience political life? How do we clue others in, to share in this experience with us? In what registers does political life occur? The pursuit of answers to these questions orients all of my scholarship. The answers have led me to study how past thinkers understand political life, exploring which mechanisms they present as central to politics. They have also necessarily led me to confront what is missing from these accounts. In particular, reason, rationality, and articulate speech are prominent in most accounts of political life; these represent the intelligible register of political life. Instead, my research pursues the overlooked and understudied registers of politics, trafficking in emotions, bodies and affects. I want to figure out how our bodies experience political life, and how that experience extends across the multiple registers through which we experience the world.
My dissertation analyzes the political work of crying, as one such mode of experience. Crying is a marginalized form of expression, often overlooked because of its associations with femininity, emotions, weakness, and disruption—all deemed undesirable in conventional accounts of politics. I argue that crying is a form of communication that performs political work by rendering bodies intelligible through its disruptive effects. Crying demands that bodies be seen and heard; that is, crying is a tool that helps marginalized bodies instead of simply a sloppy, snotty nuisance. I argue that the political force of crying is overshadowed by the discomfort this phenomenon engenders, instead of viewing that discomfort as productive. I track this discomfort to anxieties around the body, emotions, and disruption in U.S. political culture. The dissertation engages these sources of discomfort to analyze the political work of crying. My project builds upon the growing work on the role of emotions in political life by linking this work to feminist scholarship and emphasizing the embodied experience and reception of emotions. This is a missing piece from much research on emotions in political life. Feminist thinkers in particular have identified a discomfort associated with the female body, and urged scholarship to confront the body’s role in lived experiences more directly. In effect, my project injects bodies, their emotions, and their affect into the experience of political life, through the lens of tears.