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)

    Cite this