Viscerally, the activity of affect is the body's ongoing practice of transacting with the world. Affect is what in you notices things without you _noticing things. The conscious and kinetic activity of reading, judging, and responding to a scene, affect is registered as what the senses take account of in a way that permeates what's usually recognized as consciousness or personality without being identical to them. Affect is also an impact registered on the sensorium. (That's the _OED's take: something affects you and the effect is affect!) It's reactive, judgmental, a kind of knowledge, incoherent. Its noise is ordinary, in that people endure and flourish amidst its chaos: but its impact within the ordinary can change one's fundamental sense of things even when there's no dramatic event to explain the shift.
What about affective labor? The concept of affective labor is not usually as separated from social materiality as this description of the intelligence of affect is.
A long term feminist and women's pop culture conversation has developed about the affective and emotional labor women traditionally perform in intimate relationships-
households, friendships, kinship networks, communities, organizations, institutions, neighborhoods, businesses (beauty parlors, for example): psychoanalysis would argue, indeed, that to take up a position in femininity is to feel singularly obligated to be associated with affect management skills (stabilizing and shaping the atmosphere of an intimate regime) and emotional management skills (providing explicit discipline and commentary about behavioral proprieties-not only in an interpersonal sense, but extending, for example, from women's closer association with the desires and practices incited in consumer culture).
The labor of emotion work in that context extends to but is somewhat degendered in Arlie Hochschild's conceptualization of "emotional labor" and "the commodification of human feeling" everywhere in the contemporary labor economy. Hochschild's claim, which has been enriched and elaborated by three decades of empirical research, is that people virtually sell their emotional labor at work, producing value by performing facial and bodily sensitivity to colleagues, clients, customers. To do one's job, in this view, is to manage feelings. Labor spaces then become themselves invested with affective expectations for emotional transaction that will foment both profit and personal flourishing.
Then, there is Hardt and Negri's postulation, in EMPIRE, of affective labor as a synonym for the reconfiguration of labor-related subjectivity in the service economy. Their claim is that, by hailing both the body and intellect of workers to produce immaterial objects in the form of customer care and intellectual labor, Post-Fordism undoes the mind/body splits of Fordism (managers=mind, workers=body; workers then get to cultivate sensibility in increased leisure time). Hardt and Negri are not talking, really, about affect (and certainly the Spinozan commitments of Negri are not apparent in this project), but rather pointing to new consciptions of attention and bodily practice to the emergent regime of value, whose main product is immaterial, the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and care-qua-service.
Right now these three modes of address to this very important category of social and political analysis are pretty distinct from each other--but together could open up a re-understanding of the ordinary lifeworld in the contemporary economy as a space of intensities that do not just float in the air but are solicited and shaped in linked but context specific ways.
Habermas predicted such a destiny for affect in political theory when he noted that the man of the market learns skills of emotional obligation and reciprocity at home that have contradictory effects: they make him feel ethical when he is being instrumental in his social and economic relations in the public sphere; they make him capable of entering into the discussions about civic life that the state requires for democracy to be practiced; and they produce a theatricalized sense of ethical self-performance and ground liberal subjectivity. Seeing oneself as authentic affectively enables disavowing both one's participation in social distinction and one's obligation to strangers; it makes one also line up one's political attachments alongside of the intensities of what's personal.
How can we think about mobilizing affective labor for negotiating democracy and justice? What venues call up this question most intensely-
especially if Mark Auge is right, in Non-Places, that more and more life takes place in transitory domains (airports, commercial spaces, on the road, hospitals) where people's main activity is to take up a position with respect to themselves in a crowd of strangers? Is this why the friendship form and the colleague form are emerging as sites of interest for thinking about affective labor-because these durable relationships are central to whatever we must now think about contemporary kinship?