Affect Theory and Roadkill

I’m not gonna lie, the concept of “Thing-Power” and Affect Theory bugged me at first. How was I supposed to realize that everything from the suspicious looking liquid on the sidewalk I stepped on this morning (in sneakers don’t worry) to the piles of trash lining the streets was affecting both me and my experience of the space? (see: New York City) It didn’t make sense to me, and it was embarrassingly hard to wrap my head around at first. To be honest, the dead rat example used in Bennet’s “Vibrant Matter” bummed me out a bit; I’ve always thought rats were pretty cute. I had one in fourth grade and her name was Pepper. Pepper loved licking empty yogurt cups and fingers.

I digress.


RIP weirdo.

Regardless, I think it’s this connection that really got me thinking about just how much Affect Theory actually affected me. I’ve never been aware of it because it wasn’t exactly something I’d studied before, but I can’t argue that there was a lot of power in the nonhuman, and in this case nonliving, bodies I sometimes encountered.

I’m talking about roadkill.

I spent this past summer at a marketing and public relations internship back home in San Jose, California. It was a full time, paid, 40 hour a week gig, and it was my first. I was pretty lucky because the commute was only about twenty minutes if traffic was light, and I spent most of the drive singing and yelling at bad drivers. But one week in particular things got really weird really fast. The freeway as a space was relatively unchanged up to this point. Most nonhuman actants were tiny bits of debris on the side of the road from car crashes long-past that made you think briefly that car crashes were scary and you never wanted to be in one, but not badly enough that you would actively change or monitor your driving habits. You know what I’m talking about. I don’t know if it was the heat or the full moon or the smoke in the air from roughly 75% of the state being on fire, but animals had been running onto the freeway at an alarming rate. In the course of one week I saw a dead kitten, adult cat, and a squirrel that had just been absolutely obliterated across the pavement. I’m talking full on anatomy lesson.


I process my emotions through dark humor, if you couldn’t tell 🌝


Upon seeing those things on the side of the road, those very upsetting nonhuman actants, I got real bummed real fast. I walked into work those 3 days and didn’t speak to anybody. I kept thinking how sad it was, how much I really wish I hadn’t seen those poor animals, and how they stuck in the back of my mind for quite some time. But reading through the Bennett piece again and again, I understood just how much “thing power” actants have over us as users space.  The freeway was the space, the sad road pancakes were the actants, and each one had enough power to knock me on my proverbial ass for quite a while. All three animals were part of a collective, the roadkill, but each one was an individual at the same time that had the “ability to make things happen, to produce effects” (Bennett 5), namely, the tears running down my face as I drove by a dead kitten on the side of the road. Teresa Brennan also discusses the variability of an affect from person to person, how “the content one person gives to the affect of anger or depression or anxiety may be different from the content given to the same affect by another” (Brennan 6). Teresa pretty much explains to me why as I was skyping (skypeing?) my cousin Tiffany who grew up on a farm in Indiana, she didn’t seem very upset by what I had seen that depressing week. Tiffany has killed a lot of cute animals in her lifetime, and has seen her fair share of barn cats miscarry. But she and I grew up in very different spaces, where dead animals were a part of life, and were a different type of affect to her than they were to me. I’m sure I could’ve gotten a lot more philosophical with this, but that’s the story of my thought process behind truly understanding and feeling Affect Theory. It’s simple and heavy handed, yes,  but so am I.


That boulder is Affect Theory

I also once saw a body on the freeway, but that’s an affect story for another time. (◕‿◕✿)


~ by Erin Hill on September 20, 2016.

10 Responses to “Affect Theory and Roadkill”

  1. “Best in style” — I think you’re blog post was really effective in terms of your use of style. For my ecology project, I will be working on food waste and so I really connected with you when you described your morning experience in your intro paragraph. I also thought that your use of gifs was pretty funny and to me, they enhanced my understanding of your content. — Jenny Sze

  2. When it comes to style, I think your blogpost did very well. I enjoyed reading your post and I think you really got the right sense of what the authors you mentioned were trying to say. I appreciate the humor being tied in with your philosophical understanding of Affect Theory.

  3. In class, Professor Bianco defined the “best learning” blog post category as the blog post that really got you thinking about certain ideas or got you to think differently. In this case, I think I found my candidate for “best learning”. It takes a lot of imagination to connect the idea of roadkill with “affect”, and it takes talent to make both seemingly irrelevant things seem seamless in terms of relation. This blog post put “affect” in a new light for me and that’s why I want to nominate this as my “best learning” pick.


  4. Best Overall: First off, I would just like to say you nailed it with the enjoyable gifs. You were able to bring in some personal humor with informative style. You were also able to bring in the readings and describe your understanding of affect through a personal account through your commute experience this summer. Your writing style was descriptive, straightforward, and unique which made me truly engaged to the post. I really liked your observation about the commute because I think most people can relate to roadkill in suburban areas.

    – Christina (Ling) Ho

  5. Best post for learning: I really like your vivid and gif-supported connection of your daily commute past roadkill with Bennet’s idea of “Thing-Power.” You do a great a job in simplifying a concept called “Thing-Power” and making it easy to understand in relation to Affect Theory! – Kai

  6. This is the best overall, I think the post was very engaging and a thoughtful connection with the text. I truly would’ve never thought of affect in relation to roadkill. You made the concept easy to understand, and your anecdotes added a special style to the story.

  7. Engagement: Your post was so engaging– such great storytelling! You have a really great writing style (“… a squirrel that had just been absolutely obliterated across the pavement. I’m talking full on anatomy lesson.” Amazing) and your use of gifs were really spot on– they added to the article rather than just feeling like after thoughts.

  8. I’m nominating this post for “best overall”. Your project is incredibly unique, and not something I would have thought of when faced with finding an ecology. You also bring the concept to affect to life through your own experience & this makes us care. Your affect literally comes off the page! Plus, you incorporate the relationship between thing-power and affect really well, being super clear about how these dead animals affected your drive to work. We get an all around clear picture of what you’re talking about! *applause* *virtual high-five*

  9. Best Overall: interesting and relatable start and the storytelling of your experience over roadkill is very engaging and worths reflecting on. Vivid, easy to follow, dark humor, great ending. – Abby

  10. While reading the post, I get a feeling of feeling what you have felt in your story. I think your words are strong and engaging and also that you connect with the readings in a way that I find natural and you seemingly built a emotional and rational connections.

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