Formations of Feeling, Constellation of Things

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Ben Highmore


This essay revisits Raymond Williams’s notion of ‘structures of feeling’ with the intention of clarifying what Williams meant by ‘feelings’, and of exploring the concept’s possible range and reach within the study of culture. It recovers the initial anthropological context for the phrase by reconnecting it to the work of Ruth Benedict and Gregory Bateson. It goes on to suggest that while the analysis of ‘structures of feeling’ has been deployed primarily in studies of literary and filmic culture it might be usefully extended towards the study of more ubiquitous forms of material culture such as clothing, housing, food, furnishings and other material practices of daily living. Indeed it might be one way of explaining how formations of feeling are disseminated, how they suture us to the social world and how feelings are embedded in the accoutrements of domestic, habitual life. The essay argues that by joining together a socially phenomenological interest in the world of things, accompanied by an attention to historically specific moods and atmospheres, ‘structures of feelings’ can direct analyses towards important mundane cultural phenomena.  

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Articles (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Ben Highmore, University of Sussex

School of Media, Film and Music,

Professor of Cultural Studies