How do people come to make economic decisions? This central question, one that has occupied economists as much as sociologists, is explored anew in the book by exploring the relationship between calculation and affect, while also attending to the mediating role played by particular devices within markets.

On one level, an argument is advanced that we need to understand the simultaneous role in markets played by both devices and ‘dispositions’ in markets, to draw on the terms of the sociologist Franck Cochoy. That is to say, market action and market calculation are shaped at by the particular ways they are formatted or ‘equipped’ by the arrangement at once of quite particular material things and of the seemingly more ephemeral ‘felt’ dimensions of life. The more precise argument is that what one might understand as ’emotion’ and ‘calculation’ both emerge from and achieve stability as they emerge out of the varied, always in motion hinterland of experience that I (after many others) call affect.

With specific reference to debt collection and the everyday experience of default, this means that affect holds the potential to split, to ‘bifurcate’, into distinct cognitive and embodied operations/sensations, each of which are experienced differently and do different things. This happens through an oscillating movement that can be described as acts of of enfolding and unfolding. That is, both a movement inwards, into the embodied life of an individual (enfolding) and outwards towards, in this case, a particular collections prompt (unfolding).

One example I give of this is how a state of ongoing, future-focused anxiety, what I call ‘anxious anticipation’, caused by the regular and persistent intrusion of debt collections letters and phonecalls (and thus a particularly common characteristic of life in default), can, under in right circumstances, become a resource for the debt collector looking to train a debtors’ calculative attention on his/her debt. This is what I term ‘the capture of affect’. An extract:

An unfolding state of anxious anticipation holds the potential to become calculation and/or emotion (or indeed some other entity—that does not concern us here, however). The bifurcation of affect into calculation and emotion is not as a result of the precise contents of the particular letter in hand, but in anticipation of a familiar but yet to be unveiled future. This anticipatory state has been both enfolded prior to the arrival of the letter and produces the emergent conditions for the strengthening of the bond that connects debtor to debt. As it unfolds into calculation, the attachment of Eve to her debt becomes reinforced.

As a number of writers on affect have sought to clarify, emotion needs to be understood as a particular manner in which affect becomes something else. Affect is not equivalent to emotion. It is rather that emotion is one way in which affect congeals into an entity that is more bounded and, potentially, amenable to categorisation and human analysis—as occurs here with Eve, in her reference to her own panic (see: Grossberg 2010, p.316; Massumi 2002, pp.27–28). Emotion, as Ben Anderson puts it is “qualified personal content”. It emerges from the affective while at the same time inevitably feeding back into it (Anderson forthcoming, p.tbc).

Crucially, though, the processes through which affect congeals into something else do not necessarily just relate to emotion, but can also apply to calculation—holding in mind once again that calculation is invariably at least partially qualitative, or ‘qualculative’. In this case, these qualculative processes might include those that surround and stem from putting the letter away or making a phone call. What Eve is describing is the very potential for affect to bifurcate, to emerge and then to become abstracted in and through quite distinct, but always related, registers. Panic and clearly defined calculative action—body and mind, put crudely—need, according to Eve’s account, to become separate and distinct entities. Both briefly coexist in a state of unrealised existence, each ready to become fully realised as required once the letter is opened.

It is certainly the case, as the economization programme suggests, that in such instances a debtor’s cognitive capacities are being equipped and translated through the socio-material device of the collections letter. The product, in turn, undergoes a process of requalification. But to this account we can add a description of the way in which certain forms of requalification depend on the unfolding of embodied process. This is what Brian Massumi calls the ‘capture’ of affect (Massumi 2002).

Related posts: