A central output of my research thus far has been the development of a sociological methodology able to address the material and embodied dimensions constitutive to culture. Joining cultural analysts who observe processes of aestheticisation, meaning processes within which people increasingly search for meaning in surrounding themselves with things and settings that first and foremost appeal to their senses, I have questioned the central role symbolic representations and narrative resources still have in mainstream sociological analyses of culture today.
With that I do not want to deny that social life is organised through symbolic interactions. However, there is increasingly, as I and other scholars observe, an element missing or hidden when we talk about what constitutes meaningful human experiences today. Affect-Mood-Meaning is therefor an attempt of extending in a social scientific process the analytical task of ‘reading’ culture towards that of ‘feeling’ its materiality. It seeks to promote ‘arts of noticing’ or an analytical attentiveness towards all those moments and gestures within which things and people resonate with one another.
Charting this endeavour, the central aim of this methodology is outlining moods. They are, to put it simply, reoccurring patterns of affects. They are culturally and historically specific feelings of being that rely on certain spatio-temporal arrangements to emerge and certain deictic gestures direct towards these sites and felt resonances with the world to be organised socially. Doing so moods are, I argue, of similar structural quality as are for instance narratives. Moods provide, so to say, a footing and guiding line in life’s continuity not so much in aligning past and future actions through a certain historization (be that individually in one’s biography or more communal in historical narratives). Much rather do moods provide stability and orientation for people in that they are sensibilities of the now one remembers and thus feels attached and belonging to.
The crucial nuance, however, is that moods do neither really belong to ‘the world’ nor to ‘the social’. Much rather are they the edge through which these two resonate with one another (pulling these distinctions further apart is thus the key difference with similar intellectual projects of Bruno Latour, Karin Knorr-Cetina, or Antoine Hennion who rather opt towards amalgamating them). In order to arrive at and outline this structural dimension, I henceforth sharpen the analytical distinctions between experiential, organisational, and structural spheres. I pull apart the experiential dimension of worldly resonances (affect) and the organisational dimension of gestures and discourses directed towards these felt sensibilities (meaning). Between them I locate moods as structural dimension which is the result of the culturally and historically specific oscillation between experiencing affects and trying to organise and make sense of them.
Doing so culture is now understood as meaning-structure constituted in a historically specific mood or feeling of being – neither unitarily situated in the world’s materiality nor in social subjects, their practices, actions, and knowledge. Herein we are to outline more sharply that culture or meaningfulness is neither part of ‘the world’ nor part of ‘the social’ but only emerges from their interaction. Confronted with this new constitution of culture, we are then able to rethink ideas (such as love, friendship, family, or the home) used to organise life’s meaningfulness more efficiently. To put it differently, we do not have to give up all the resources that organise social life to arrive at a point within which we can emphasise that a meaningful life does not rely on one’s capacity master the world in reading and transcending it historically. Much rather is meaningfulness now framed through as those intimate engagements with socio-material surroundings that offer a sensibility for one’s place in the world.