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Digital Emotions


Professor dr. Ellen Rutten & Dr. Niels van Doorn


Local partners: Luiza Bialasiewicz, Yra van Dijk, Carolin Gerlitz (UvA/Goldsmiths), Jan Hein Hoogstad, Jeroen de Kloet, Patricia Pisters, Thomas Poell, Sudha Rajagopalan, Ellen Rutten, Olga Sezneva (faculteit FMG), Jules Sturm, Ed Tan

International and/or non-academic partners: Natalie Dixon (Goldsmiths /, Juha Vantzelfde (, Adi Kuntsman (University of Manchester / Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures)

Description of the research programme of the research group

In the past decade and a half, cultural studies and cultural sociology have created a rich vocabulary for thinking about emotions, feelings and affect – whether it is the role of feelings and emotion in social and economic struggles; the status of affect as a commodification object; or the public and political sphere as intimate, to mention some notable strands of inquiry. The same period has witnessed a spike in the growth of digital media and information and communication technologies and their social and political impact in all world regions. In short, today we witness the simultaneous booming of two academic fields – studies of emotion and of digital media. The two fields largely live parallel lives, however: the intersection between the digital and the affective has only recently become subject of scholarly attention. By carving out a fresh niche of scholarly investigation – feelings and emotions in digital cultures – this research group will contribute substantially to the Uva research priority area Globalization and Cultural Transformation and to the focus research programs Digital Humanities and Creative Industries.

The group will discuss topical literature and (non-academic/artistic) projects, whose relevance to the members’ individual research is explored in monthly seminars. Examples of questions that the group engages with are:

* How are emotions/affects given shape (i.e. how are they materialized and translated) in digital networked spaces?

* How are emotional investments and affective relationships captured and valorized by platform owners and third parties (e.g. advertisers)? How are interfaces and platform infrastructures designed and engineered to generate, modulate, circulate, aggregate, analyze, and commodify users’ feelings?

* Consequently, how are these intensities (e.g. feelings, moods, emotions) turned into measurable extensities? How are they quantified, i.e. turned into numbers and metrics? In other words, how is emotional value turned into monetary value? How do we approach the measurement and valuation of digital emotions?

* In contrast, what about the feelings of/for the common and the public in digital networked spaces? How are new media mobilized to compose a common world and how do digitally mediated publics emerge? Consequently, how do we approach the feelings associated with digitally mediated publicness, sociality, and politics?

* Finally, how do we deal with digital emotions in our own work? Methodological reflections are needed: how are digital technologies and our emotional/affective experiences shaping our research?

Envisaged results

Apart from monthly seminars, the ‘Digital Emotions’ project will work towards the following results: a thematic workshop and symposium; applications for external research funding; potential research collaborations and joint (academic as well as popular) publications; and an edited volume.

Work plan

The program will run for at least five years: 2013-2018. Some key dates include: monthly seminars starting May 2013; one/two external research funding applications: 2015-2016; one workshop and one symposium (2015 and 2018).

Societal relevance

Given the emerging re-valuation of emotion and affect in digital media cultures and economies, it is vitally important to identify and understand the new forms and functions of feeling in the networked spaces of digital communication and computation. At a time when emotional experiences and affective relations are becoming increasingly valuable (and measurable) resources in digitally mediated social life, questions about how particular feelings are mobilized by different actors demand carefully substantiated answers. In this context, the Digital Emotions research group investigates how digitally mediated emotions, feelings, moods, and other affective phenomena are constituted in – and constitutive of – new power relations and cultural productions, examining their multivalent iterations at the intersection of cultural, intimate, and economic practices. It does so in an emphatically public setting: group members include academic as well as non-academic partners, and project results will be shared in both scholarly and popular publications.

This research group is active in the following constellations: