Introduction

Welcome to “A Biocultural Hinge: Theorizing Affect and Emotion Across Disciplines,” a Peter Wall International Roundtable organized by Adam Frank (Associate Professor, English, UBC) and Shelly Rosenblum (Curator of Academic Programs, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, UBC). The Roundtable will be held in Vancouver from May 1st to 4th, 2013.

The enormous recent interest in the emotions has been evident across a wide variety of disciplines: philosophy, literary criticism, sociology, geography, history, anthropology, academic and clinical psychology, the neurosciences, and the visual and performing arts. Taking advantage of UBC faculty’s specific expertise and wide-ranging connections in this area, this PWIAS Roundtable invites an international cross-disciplinary group of researchers and practitioners to explore theories of emotion both from the perspectives of their own disciplines and from one another’s. Our task will be to address a series of difficult questions.

  • How do various disciplines define emotion, whether in terms of subjective feeling, observable psycho-physiological state, neurobiological process or event, discursive entity, or aesthetic means or end?
  • How might these definitions intersect or fail to intersect with one another?
  • Can any existing theory of emotion accommodate these definitions?

Note that the Roundtable will not take a consilient approach to theories of emotion. Rather than seek to unify various definitions and perspectives, the Roundatble seeks to enable productive dialogue on emotion as a transdisciplinary object of study.

To focus discussion, the Roundtable directs participants to explore the idea that any adequate account of the reciprocal relations between biology and culture would require a compelling theory of emotion.

  • How can a theoretical understanding of emotion help to locate a hinge mechanism that explains the ways that cultural experience can act back on biological matter?
  • How is affective salience realized in various aesthetic practices (such as musical composition and visual art)?
  • How might affective salience serve (and fail to serve) natural and/or sexual selection?

"A Biocultural Hinge” addresses these questions by bringing together researchers and practitioners whose expertise and research styles will benefit from an open, challenging, and cross-disciplinary dialogue on emotion with the goal of sparking new approaches to this fundamental quality of human (and other animal) experience.