Seeking Vibrancy and Identification in Micropolitical Research

By: Justina Avent

Jane Bennett and Teresa Brennan, in their own regard, have done outstanding work in unlearning and reworking several long-held, taken-for-granted Western worldviews we are taught growing up, such as the dichotomy between object and subject, the separation of mind, body, and soul, and the Marxist notion of materiality to name a few.

Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter served as the ultimate clapback to the narcissism and moral superiority humans move through the world with– the understanding that they are the only living creatures that matter in this world because of their unique capacity for intellectual reasoning. This intellectual reasoning is unique and powerful for it gives us the ability to express sensations and experiences in words, and communicate those sensations and experiences to others. However, this capability should be seen as an additive asset of our agency as living creatures, rather than an essential asset. What is essential to all matter’s vitality and constitutes every type of matter from the junk on the sidewalk, to the carbon dioxide we exhale, to our total selves, as living, is their affective powers. 

Underlying Bennett’s arguments is her eco-philosophical goal to promote greener forms of human culture. In the preface she asks a pointed, open-ended question: How would we respond to public problems as a society if we viewed nonhuman matter as actants; if we gave vibrant matter equal power and legitimacy as we give human actants? 

When working on our ecological sites and the interrogations we perform about the bodies, identities, and sociopolitical factors at play in that space, we must keep in mind how they  resonate on a macro level. As Bennett reasons, “there will be no greening of the economy, no redistribution of wealth, no enforcement or extension of rights without human dispositions, moods, and cultural ensembles hospitable to these effects” (xii). 

In the case of the two fare zones I’m studying across New York City, I hope to check my biases at the door. There is undoubtedly an economic disparity issue that begs highlighting, but not in a way that tells a singular, totalizing narrative of brown and black people being a poor, unhappy, struggling class of people. It is easy to step into a neighborhood that’s classified as low-income and only seek out the “poor” elements. But this is not the type of narrative I’m interested in perpetuating. Taking a note out of Bennett’s book, I’d like to investigate these sites with my mind and heart open to the pockets of vibrancy that exists within the areas, especially in the components commonly understood as run-down. I shall challenge popular notions of wealth that are associated with economic prosperity, materialism, and newness, as there are other subsets of wealth that deserve equal recognition such as wealth of culture, diversity, and love.

The graffiti present at the Livonia-Junius transfer in East New York speaks to this overlooked wealth of culture I hint at.
At first glance you see run-down train tracks. But upon deeper examination, this site could serve as a sort of urban playground for the children in this community.

When articulating these findings, it is important to incorporate lessons from Brennan’s The Transmission of Affect. Like Bennett, Brennan problematizes the distinction between object and subject, as well as the omnipresent and metaphysical nature of affect. Throughout her introductory theory, she stresses the physiological component of an affect. For example, when you experience something that’s “a slap in the face,” it actually feels like that– your face feels hot and numb. Or the heart sinking and throat tightening that occurs when you experience something heart-wrenching. Resisting these negative instances of affect can go one of two ways: projecting them outward via the process of “othering,” in which another subject (usually women, subjugated races, etc) accepts those unwanted affects, or discerning them and its effects from one’s own emotional state, a task that calls for a high level of emotional intelligence. Although scarce in Western cultures, the latter is what we ought to steer towards in these cases. Discernment allows us to be more conscious in our reflections and evaluations of our feelings. If we can identify the sources of our affects, we can give voice to them, outlining the path between stimulus and emotional response for those not as emotionally keen. Once these markers of identification are highlighted, perhaps it will make resistant, judgmental groups on the defense of our precarity, more susceptible to identification. This is an ambitious, mentally taxing task that will require constant reflection about what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling that way, but it is one I am more than willing to undergo.


Bennett, Jane. “Preface.” Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things, Duke University Press, 2010, pp. vii-xix.

“Introduction.” The Transmission of Affect, by Teresa Brennan, Cornell University Press, 2004, pp. 1–23.

~ by jca428 on September 23, 2019.

2 Responses to “Seeking Vibrancy and Identification in Micropolitical Research”

  1. Your blog post was very affective to me. You have a very conversational way of writing that spoke to me and had me invested in your issue quite seamlessly. I think that will be a strength for you moving forward. I like that you invoked your own role often and told us the steps you were going to take (checking your biases, reflecting hard on the way what you are seeing/smelling/hearing is making you feel). It encourages action and involvement on our parts as well!

  2. I feel that this blog post is the most informative because of the way it introduces your future topic and begins to set up the foundation as to how you will approach your topic, which is beneficial for your classmates who look forward to following your progress. Your description of a “slap in the face” or “heart-sinking” are poignant and will stick with me when I consider these texts in the future.

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