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Aug. 7, 2018

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Women and Gender Studies, Cultural Analysis and Social Theory

My research focuses on rethinking what it is we mean by ‘love.’ Feminist theorists of love push us to become more aware of the powerful stories that surround us about love, to ask who gets to determine these, and help us to develop new concepts of love.

In 2013, I was invited to Örebro, Sweden for a two-day conversation about love and feminism with a group of eight other scholars from many different countries and across disciplines. We formed the Feminist Love Studies International Network and declared the existence of a new sub-field of academic study called: “Feminist Love Studies.”

In 2018, our network’s collaborative book Feminism and the Power of Love: Interdisciplinary Interventions (Routledge) was published. Feminism and the Power of Love was produced in a very different way than most edited academic collections in the humanities. After an initial agreement on a common focus, every core member of the network wrote draft chapters. We met again and provided each other with extensive feedback, then rewrote our chapters taking into account these conversations. Finally, the editors suggested further ways each chapter could refer to other chapters. It was a very time consuming, challenging, but rewarding process.

In my chapter titled, “Love as Affective Energy: Where Feminist Love Studies Meets Feminist Affect Theory” I argue that those working in “feminist love studies” could learn a lot from those working in “feminist affect studies” and vice versa. One commonality I found was a tendency to use the word “energy” when discussing love. Paying attention to “energy” defamiliarizes the discussion of “love” by getting away from the baggage the word has come to carry. It allows researchers to develop a properly complex theory of love by drawing together psychoanalytic, psychological, social, aesthetic, economic, and thermodynamic theories to try to understand this phenomenon.

Working with my colleagues across the network, I have become aware that the studies of love and affect/emotion prompt extremely self-reflexive research: Emotion and love are not just subjects that I study, but also describes the way the network is generating knowledge. What else but “love” accounts for researchers deciding to research one thing so specifically, or for the ridiculous number of hours we spend paying attention to one thing? At the same time I am also considering how practicing what Dawn Rae Davis calls “love as the ability of not knowing” as a crucial part of our research practices. In order to resist loving what we are studying to death, how might we need to practice a form of love that in order to preserve the other might mean limiting our pursuit of knowledge and change our understanding of what knowledge is? These questions of love as feminist methodology are the focus of my on-going research and my book manuscript in process.

I hope this work will draw more attention to both discipline-specific and everyday concepts about love and encourage reflection around what kinds of emotions we circulate in our research environments at Laurier. Do we take responsibility for the kinds of “energies” we bring to our writing, labs, classrooms, meetings? Including, are we aware of how power differentials contribute to how energy circulates in the spaces we inhabit? Do we help to increase or deplete the energies of those around us?

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