Affect theory refers to the idea that attempts to categorize affects, which are frequently used interchangeably with emotions or subjectively perceived sentiments, and to characterize their physiological, sociological, interactional, and internalized expressions.
According to affect theorists, the reality of humans is influenced by nonlinguistic factors such as mood, environment, and sentiments, in addition to narratives and arguments.
The affect theory of social exchange centers social exchange theory around emotion and sentiments. It asserts that emotional responses to exchange are internal reactions that reward and penalize actors. According to the idea, these sensations and feelings have significant ramifications for the relationships, networks, and organizations in which they occur.
The psychologist Silvan Tomkins is credited with developing affect theory, first described in the first two volumes of his work “Affect Imagery Consciousness,” published in 1962. The term “affect” is used by Tomkins to refer to the “biological element of emotion,” which is referred to as the “hard-wired, preprogrammed, genetically transmitted processes that exist in each of us” and which, when activated, cause a “known sequence of biological occurrences.” The intrinsic process and a “complex matrix of nested and interacting ideo-emotional formations” combine to produce the affective experience in adulthood; it is also recognized.
The social exchange affect theory illustrates how the direct, daily emotional impacts of social trade form the foundation for more meaningful or weaker affective bonds to social units by analyzing structural circumstances that cause differences in the jointness of the exchange task.
The theory proposes that human conduct is primarily motivated by feelings and emotions, focusing on maximizing happy sensations while minimizing negative ones. The idea holds that affects are intrinsic and universal reactions that give rise to awareness and direct cognition. Eight significant affects—the positive ones, such as exhilaration and enjoyment; the negative ones, such as anguish, fear, humiliation, and disgust; and the comparatively neutral one, interest—are proposed.
The phrase “structure of feeling” was created in the 1970s by affect theorist Raymond Williams to aid in a historical understanding of “affective aspects of consciousness and relationships.” Since then, in a time of social networking, pervasive media, and a public sphere filled with commodities and advertisement culture, the need to comprehend emotions, moods, and atmospheres as historical and societal processes has only grown more urgent.
Since the middle of the 1990s, affect theory has risen to prominence throughout the social sciences and humanities.
Affect theory emerged as one of literary studies’ prevailing paradigms throughout the 2000s and served as a link to other disciplines, particularly social psychology, anthropology, and political theory. As the world became more complicated, academics like Sara Ahmed, Sianne Ngai, and Ann Cvetkovich started examining the emotional aspects of existence.
Affect theorists have observed that, despite a sense of looming futility, many people appear to find the most enjoyment in making other people feel awful. Disaffection and disillusionment are contagious, and that is something individuals can transmit themselves.
The postwar, boom-era ideals of the good life have been replaced, in Berlant’s words, by “dramas of adjustment,” which may “push into existence new recognitions of what a life is and ought to be.” Affect theory offers, in Berlant and Stewart’s hands, a method to comprehend the feelings and resignations of the present, the normalized tiredness that comes with living in the new economy.