Postdoctoral Research Fellow James Jardine (University of Jyväskylä): Social (in)visibility and affective experience

James Jardine at research seminar of philosophy

The humiliating experience of feeling oneself ‘invisible’ before the gazes of others, routinely lived through by some members of social minorities, has obvious potential as a theme for collaborative efforts between critical theorists and phenomenologists. The present paper sketches one way of approaching such a collaborative engagement, drawing upon two authors who offer searching analyses of social visibility and its potential pathologies: Husserl and Honneth. The specific phenomenon will first be located by way of Honneth’s treatment of social invisibility as frequented by behaviour that expresses an attitude of nonrecognition towards other persons immediately present. As Honneth notes, what is absent in such cases are patterns of bodily expression that convey a (positive and context-appropriate) emotive attitude to the other. Accordingly, he suggest that affect plays an essential role in enabling us to ‘see’ others in an affirmative or recognitive (rather than merely ‘cognitive’) fashion, such that our emotional expressions can convey to others their social (rather than merely ‘literal’) visibility. While this suggestion remains largely undeveloped in Honneth’s work, I will argue that the connection between social visibility and affect can be clarified by drawing upon Husserl’s unpublished writings on emotion. As Husserl’s fine-grained analyses show, our emotive responses to perceptually present others are lived as embodied and evaluative attitudes which ‘target’ others in their perceptual presence, and simultaneously as ways in which we ‘see’ others as having new forms of (axiological) significance. Moreover, I will argue that Husserl’s account of the habitual depth of emotive life illuminates the (personal and social) conditions of social invisibility. Briefly put, the development of prejudice at the level of immediate affective experience emerges in social contexts where our emotive habits are shaped by stories and images that associate certain (roughly typified) perceptible features with, e.g., worthless or frightening behaviour.


Faculty of Social Sciences/Philosophy

Further information

Jani Hakkarainen