Affective authority and the practice of assembly

  • Adam Phillips

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis argues that the relation between political authority and collective
action depends upon the interaction between discursive claims and affective
attachments. The principal contribution to knowledge is the elaboration
of an aesthetic theory of political judgment inspired by Hannah Arendt’s
theory of agonistic deliberation, but based not on Immanuel Kant’s critical
aesthetic, as is Arendt’s theory, but on Alfred North Whitehead’s aesthetic
theory of experience. The connection between authority and collective action is
established through the claim that collective action is enabled by structures of
authority and that, conversely, collective action is productive of the discursive
norms and affective attachments through which authority is constituted. The
thesis begins with an account of the concept of assembly not as a vehicle
for political demands or as a site of performative claims but as a creative,
“world-building” practice through which the discursive (or narrative) and
affective bases for political authority are established. It then provides an
account of Arendt’s political theory, in particular her creative repurposing of
Immanuel Kant’s critical aesthetic to develop a model of agonistic political
deliberation, and her theorization of the foundation of political authority as
presented in her essay, “What is Authority?” and her book, On Revolution.
This is followed by a critique of Arendt’s account that focuses on her dismissal
of the role of emotions in public life and on the implicit metaphysical biases
that influence her account, in spite of her explicit rejection of the metaphysical
tradition. It is argued that an adequate account of political authority must
give proper recognition to the role of affective attachments in the experience
of authority and, furthermore, that Arendt’s exclusion of affective phenomena
undermines her own arguments concerning political authority and the public
realm more broadly. An alternative political aesthetic is proposed that
replaces Kant’s aesthetic theory, and its claim that emotion necessarily
invalidates aesthetic judgment, with Alfred North Whitehead’s aesthetic theory
of experience. In this model, political judgment is necessarily guided both
by affective attachments and by evaluative judgment. This Whiteheadian
political aesthetic is combined with contemporary philosophical research on the
phenomenology of emotion to elaborate a novel account of affective authority
as a central component in the world-building practices that are both product
and precondition of collective political action.
Date of AwardAug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorVicky Margree (Supervisor) & Jason Lim (Supervisor)

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