Emotional Environments: Selective Permeability, Political Affordances and Normative Settings

Topoi 41 (5):917-929 (2022)
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I begin this article with an increasingly accepted claim: that emotions lend differential weight to states of affairs, helping us conceptually carve the world and make rational decisions. I then develop a more controversial assertion: that environments have non-subjective emotional qualities, which organize behavior and help us make sense of the world. I defend this from ecological and related embodied standpoints that take properties to be interrelational outcomes. I also build on conceptions of experience as a cultural phenomenon, one that coheres around shared environmental contours and public emotional concerns, introducing normative constraints (or what might be called “world grammars”). Endorsing this outlook suggests an argument for the view that cultural spaces have affectively charged, non-subjective, normative openings and closures. These openings and closures engender selectively permeable barriers which cordon space without physically preventing entry, as seen with decorative half walls and elevation changes. An area with such barriers may look emotionally hostile to, say, the dispirited homeless who are in fact less welcome there. Outcomes like these might be thought of as “political affordances.” These affordances can be regarded as normative openings and closures that implicitly filter, and hence segregate, according to various social divisions. Although registering political affordances requires more than the detection of ambient arrays, the notion retains core Gibsonian ideas: that affordances are values, that these values are linked with how a space can be used, and that the existence and nature of such affordances is not a subjective matter.

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Matthew Crippen
Grand Valley State University


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