The affect of freedom or feeling free by Denise  Bergold-Caldwell

Philipp Lottholz’s report on ‚The affect of freedom or feeling free‘ by Denise Bergold-Caldwell, June 11th.

Denise  Bergold-Caldwell’s presentation “The affect of freedom or feeling free” examined affective socio-discursive dynamics in the German-speaking public and pointed out the Eurocentric and anti-feminist conceptions of (especially women’s) freedom and emancipation held by the societal mainstream, or at least a large part thereof. The presentation started with setting out the (not so narrow) spectrum of anti-feminism in contemporary Europe, which includes right-wing, religious fundamentalist, biologist but also liberal voices who are united by the threat they see in an ‘omnipotent feminism’ and the challenge it poses to ‘white heterosexual men’. In the second part, Denise indicated the affects and expressions aired by this societal undercurrent in two cases, that of the Cologne 2016 “New Year’s Eve events” (during which a high number of women was assaulted by men of reportedly largely migrant background) and that of a photograph of the first newborn of 2018 in Vienna, Austria being portrayed together with its mother wearing a headscarf. Both of these cases solicited affects and reactions that expressed an anti-feminist and Eurocentric conception of freedom as a state in which women are able to demonstrate their personal freedom and ‘emancipation’ in public without being assaulted; and one where ‘religion’ or ‘tradition’ will not oblige them to cover themselves. The discussion with seminar participants revolved around the problematic and objectifying nature of this conception of freedom in Western societies, but also its normalised and taken-for-granted status; pondered over conceptual aspects of the analysis of the affects and flows of emotions in the empirical analysis; and went beyond the two case studies to consider other similar instances and questions about migrants’ conceptions of gender and sexuality. The presentation and discussion thus drew particular attention to the patriarchal, anti-feminist, racist and orientalist ways in which not only fundamentalist and xenophobic circles, but most likely a good part of the societal mainstream, appear to think about women and female emancipation.