Brian Massumi (1956–) is a contemporary political theorist of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics. One of the foremost thinkers of “radical empiricism,” he is responsible for enabling the widespread use of Deleuzean philosophy in communication and inaugurating the so-called “affective turn” in the theoretical humanities. Massumi is Professor of Communication at the Université de Montréal and a collaborator with the experimental art and activism lab SenseLab, founded by Erin Manning. His most well-known translation is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1987), and he is the author of ten books, including the widely influential Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002). Massumi’s radical empiricist approaches concern the aesthetics of communication and power in the context of global capitalism. He opens the field of communication to the study of relationality, what he calls “being-in-becoming,” which he describes in terms of Gilles Deleuze’s “the actual” and “the virtual.” His critical embrace of becoming reframes the concept of “the event” as a processual unfolding of forces of expression, or experience. Instead of remaining wedded to communication models that limit language to designation, manifestation, and signification, Massumi’s focus on becoming calls for accounts of the extra-linguistic. Three key concepts include expression, affect, and perception. Through creative and experimental dispositions, Massumi position the fields of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics toward vibrant scenes of relations-already-underway, or how feeling, thinking, and being begin, again, in the middle of something already underway—a “happening doing.”
Brian L. Ott
Affect has historically been conceptualized in one of two dominant ways. The first perspective, which has its roots in psychology and neuroscience, tends to view affect as an elemental state. This tradition is reflected in Silvan S. Tomkins’s theory of primary affects and Antonio Damasio’s theory of basic emotions. Recent extensions of this tradition include the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lisa Cartwright, and Teresa Brennan. The second perspective, which is typically associated with developments in philosophy and the humanities, treats affect as an intensive force. This tradition, whose most famous proponent is Gilles Deleuze, is evident in Brian Massumi’s theory of autonomous affect and Nigel Thrift’s non-representational theory. Recent extensions of this tradition tend to emphasize the importance of materiality, or what Jane Bennett has called “thing-power.” A number of scholars working in communication and cultural studies have created a third, hybrid tradition that attempts to bridge or mediate the two dominant historical accounts. This third perspective includes Lawrence Grossberg’s notion of affective investments, Christian Lundberg’s Lacanian-inspired view of affect, Sara Ahmed’s work on the sociality of emotion, and Gernot Böhme’s theory of atmospheres.