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Affective Publics

“Affective attunement permits people to feel their way into politics” (p. 118). This statement from Zizi Papacharissi’s book Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology, and Politics is an overarching theme of how, I think, people currently participate in politics via their online social networks.

Its true, most people have sort of emotional reaction to most content they interact with. It's safe to say that that emotional reaction is now in the form of a retweet or share. In the past, these emotional reactions happened with their immediate friends and family, maybe over the kitchen table.

Platforms such as Twitter, no doubt, have changed the landscape of the way people interact and participate with news and political content. This comes with many benefits. With the ability to connect across continents, people can organize cultural groups, regardless of geographical location. Twitter’s users can expand their sources and realm of information like never before. It invites a mostly organic and impromptu space to relate to content and the other users who post or share it. In nature, they support social interaction that encourages free thoughts, creativity, and potential innovation.

Computer mediated communications has its pitfalls as well. People are committing to the information on their highly curated Twitter feeds to gain information, factual or not. Majority of the time, people are following other users that already have the same beliefs that they do, which in turn is a way to maintain feelings that are appealing to that specific user. Even if that is a feeling that feeds into a social unrest from a negative post from a user or just a feeling of community with people of a perceived shared experiences.

All in all, users may still connect with people with differing views to challenge their beliefs. This attunement, of both sides creates publics with the ability to make disruptions on the political environment. Not just the journalists or gatekeepers.

While abstract and solely digital this communication occurs, the impact left by strong publics is lasting. Case in point, the #BlackLivesMatter or #MeToo movements. These groups joined together to essentially take a stand and/or tell a story with their collective shared experiences. Yes, this is an intangible way for people to organize, but I cannot deny that when these happen, it translates to the real world. An online political movement can begin online and move to a real-world political protest.

Papacharissi introduces the “structure of feeling” (Williams, 1961) to “describe the potential that lies in that which is emergent and the power of agency that may derive from the volatility of social experiences in the making” (p. 115). Many scholars attempt to understand social experiences, but is this still possible when discussing online, computer mediated communication as pertaining to these “social experiences?” Its our job as scholars to do just that and continue to find the best explanation for the modern phenomena surrounding online communication through social media. Papacharissi's book lays a ground work to help explain the somewhat interpersonal aspect of communicating online.

“Affective attunement clarifies how individuals first approach these discourses as actors preparing to engage in discourses as narratives” (p. 135). At the end of the day, in some way, people want to tell and get a story from their online interactions and issues discussed there. Its unconsciously expected to evoke emotion. This happens in online political participation, but in all aspects of online interaction.



Papacharissi, Z. (2014). Affective publics : sentiment, technology, and politics. New York : Oxford University Press, 2014.

Williams, R. (1961). The long revolution. London: Chatto and Windus

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