Cultural poesis and affect

Lucy Lippard’s comments that ‘Today the term regionalism … continues to be used pejoratively, to mean corny backwater art flowing from tributaries that might eventually reach the mainstream but is currently stagnating out there in the boondocks’. (Lippard 1997:36) The local/regional is stereotyped here as without merit because of its inwardness and self-referentiality. Critical regionalism offers a different approach that understands the regional as potentially challenging to normative and established terms and patterns of thought. Looking closely and feeling intimately about the world we inhabit, dwelling deep, can be an action of critique enabling a contextual and relational comprehension of the immediate in dialogue with the distant and the local and the global.

One mechanism that intensifies this process is the understanding and recognition of affect, a “different kind of intelligence” constituted by embodied knowledge, emotion, drive, interaction, and change, according to Nigel Thrift’s multiple definition of the term. (Thrift, 175)  Using Kathleen Stewart’s words, one might argue that critical regionalism has the capacity to, when “loosened from any certain prefabricated knowledge”, track instead as “a moving object”  “the state of emergence that animates things cultural” and then traces the “effects of this state of things” in the everyday practices of people’s lives as they inter-connect with the past, with memory and with the unpredictable nature of feeling, all “uncaptured by claimed feelings”. (Stewart, “Cultural”,1027)

Kathleen Stewart calls her form of writing and perception “cultural poesis” or the creativity of ordinary things:

‘My work is an experiment that writes from the intensities in things. It asks what potential modes of knowing, relating or attending to things are already being lived in ordinary rhythms, labors, and the sensory materiality of forms of attunement to worlds.’ (Kathleen Stewart  )

Elsewhere, she writes of her interest in ‘things that are necessarily shifting, opportunistic, polymorphous, indiscriminate, aggressive, dreamy, unsteady, practical, unfinished, and radically particular’. (Stewart, 2005: 1028) In order to suggest such flighty, generative things she recommends new forms of writing, ‘as if the writing were itself a form of life’ – responsive, affective, mobile and poetic:

‘It follows leads, sidesteps, and delays, and it piles things up, creating layers on layers, in an effort to drag things into view, to follow trajectories in motion, and to scope out the shape and shadows and traces of assemblages that solidify and grow entrenched, perhaps doing real damage or holding real hope, and then dissipate, morph, rot, or give way to something new’’ (“Cultural”,1028)

The ordinary is a thing that has to be imagined and inhabited.

It’s also a sensory connection.  A jump.

And a world of affinities and impacts that takes place in the moves of intensity across things that seem solid and dead.  (Stewart 2007:127)

Our relations to the everyday regionalisms of ordinary places involves these ‘affinities and impacts’, for it it si via these contacts we measure and mark our bodies in the world. The memories of spaces we inhabit and move through and all the myriad traces we leave there as we pass. The stopping and starting, looking and avoiding; our senual engagemnts with place. Mark Paterson in his useful book  Senses of Touch (2007)  refers  to  “an ‘intensive’ spatiality of affects … between built space and individual resonances”, where “[i]n touching and affecting the spaces we move within, we are correspondingly touched and affected” (101) A critical regionalist method would understand and include this layering of senses and apprehensions – our production of space as always already multiple and complex.

For Ben Highmore in Ordinary Lives  it is the “pulsings of affect: the risings and fallings of hope, love, hatred and irritation; the minor and major disturbances of life set against and within a world of day-to-day habits, routines and collective sentiments”. (Highmore 2011: xii)  Region IN THIS SENSE  includes. Region deepens.  Region connects and crosses over, spreads and intensifies, commingles and flows.

Kathleen Stewart writes of a kind of fluid, convivial critical regionalism,  with its  “sense of force and texture and the sure knowledge that every scene I can spy has tendrils stretching into things I can barely, or not quite, imagine.  But I already knew that.  The world is still tentative, charged, overwhelming, and alive.  This is not a good thing or a bad thing.  It is not my view that things are going well but that they are going.” (2007:128)


Highmore, Ben.  Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday. London:Routledge, 2011.

Lippard, Lucy R. The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society.  New York: The New Press, 1997.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. 2005. London: John Wiley, 2007.

Paterson, Mark. The Senses of Touch. Oxford: Berg, 2007.

Stewart, Kathleen. “Cultural Poesis: The Generativity of Emergent Things”, in The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (Third Edition) eds. N. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln, London: Sage, 2005, 1027-1042.

———–  Ordinary Affects. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

———–   ‘Worlding Refrains’ in M. Gregg and G. Siegworth (eds.), The Affect Theory Reader, 2010, 339-353.