Masamune’s Blade

A Proposition for Dialectic Affect Research

by Peter Zuurbier (Author) Frédérik Lesage (Author)
©2016 Textbook XIV, 218 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 489


Affect is so powerful and represents such ripe territory for study that, in its infancy, conventions of research need to be established that attend to its particular motion and shape. Masamune’s Blade: A Proposition for Dialectic Affect Research outlines an original research method for the study of affect known as affect probes, and proposes the establishment of a new knowledge project based in affect. The book begins with a call to discursively reshape research using affect, after which the authors develop a unique conceptualization of affect, one that brings it into the realm of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. The theoretical foundation sets up the affect probe method, which involves giving participants a package of small activities that require fun, easy, and creative participation. The activities are intended both to inspire affects and to mark their presence. Strategies for analysis are outlined and a series of critical interventions are woven throughout the text to situate the ideas.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Slinky
  • Chapter 2. Affect Probes
  • Chapter 3. Real Time
  • Chapter 4. Sunset at Secret Beach
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Index
  • Series index

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A Call to Arms

“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”

—Brian Massumi in A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia

“Ideas are always reusable, because they have been usable before….”

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus

We all find ourselves caught up in the moment once in a while. Why is it when we find ourselves this way, so often we continue on, even though we know we shouldn’t? Consider that perhaps affect takes over. Affects come from deep inside our own minds and bodies, swaying us toward one particular course of action over all other possible alternatives. Affect inundates rational thought, sparking seemingly illogical action that when looked back on is often still identified as such. But in that moment, the payoff seems overwhelmingly worth it. There is something undeniable about affect, so how illogical can it be?

We find ourselves caught up in all sorts of affective moments that last all measures of time, from a quick instant of excitement, to a long-held perspective, to a perception shared by whole populations over centuries. Affective ← 1 | 2 → resonance can be so convincing, most times we don’t realize an affective moment has happened until the moment has already passed.

Affects are embodied circuits of resonance, the experiences that occur at a level beyond recognition to the arousal of a decided action. Affects constantly beckon people’s attention throughout day-to-day living. Attempts to allure through affect are incessant, and the vast majority are ignored. But the affects that do captivate do so with such conviction that something about them overwhelms all other considerations, including rational logic.

Affects enthrall us more and more as everything else gets boring. Affects draw us in; they make us feel…something. In a world where hastening instrumental rationality is met by equal measures of alienation and estrangement, feeling something is not only better than nothing, it can be everything. This feeling represents a temporary respite from the often incessant monotony of late modernity. Feeling reminds a person she or he is alive. The pursuit of affect both inside and outside the academy has raised the stakes of intensity immensely. The “affective turn” does not just apply to scholarship; affect has taken a prioritized role throughout Western society.

As Western consciousness seems to race faster toward irrationality, the moment has arrived to make real change in the world. Tomorrow has come and gone, we need major transformations and we need them yesterday. Academics and intellectuals choose their road in order to be active participants in the changing of the world, not passive, contemplative viewers to its passing. We all want to leave a mark, and we are some of the privileged few with the opportunity to do just that. As those on the front line of knowledge development, we have a crucial responsibility: If we don’t change the discursive shape of knowledge itself, who will? If we’re not working toward transcending the damaging contradictions that we’re afforded the perspective to comprehend, how can we expect anyone else to? The process will take a long time to see through, but it has to start somewhere. We must assume this obligation to maintain the integrity of our leadership roles in our various communities, by moulding young minds, by pushing knowledge and understanding to new places. We have to push further. One of the primary ways we create new knowledge is through research, and affect offers the potential for all kinds of compelling research that gives voice to new people, as well as new ideas. We admire and appreciate this kind of work. But too much research can be seen as creating terrain for its own sake. We know the problems we face collectively are very real, so research and knowledge production need to be directed to address them properly. ← 2 | 3 →

Affect is perfectly situated to provide a means of expanding research and the knowledge it produces by challenging the conventions that produce it. As Brian Massumi wrote: “The process is real, if not entirely rational.”1 Affect exists beyond the constructions and impositions we create for ourselves in our own minds, both individually and collectively. In this way affect provides ample space for a research alternative, a new territory waiting to be claimed, charted, and to many, conquered. But that notion in itself betrays the flaw of a certain positivist-influenced mind-set, as none of these are possible. Affect cannot be claimed, because the process of claiming changes its character. It cannot be charted because the process of charting would change its shape. It cannot be conquered because it exists and operates in a different order than the structures that attempt to contain it.

For research purposes affect is mostly new territory, and maneuvering through it requires both the blazing of new trails, and the retracing of old ones. As researchers we must contend with paths that lead nowhere and a range of potentially dangerous traps in order to pay proper tribute to its study. Traditional methods and modes of reasoning will not work for affect. Applying existing models of research are ultimately limited and flawed; they are instruments too tainted by the logic of capitalism. Research needs a reset, not a complete reconstruction but a recalibration based on new priorities. Since affect fundamentally challenges what we know about the universe we inhabit, we need a type of research with commensurate capabilities: research that pushes limits and challenges preconceptions about what research is, what research can be, and what research can do. Affect can illuminate a new path of perception that can help with this process, but not through its capture, through its creation. Affects compel action; their resonance results in the formation of something new in the universe, something substantive, the stuff dreams are made of. We see the substance of affect as action whose constitution is not only ripe for research but action that can also be directed toward a higher level of perception for both researchers and participants.


XIV, 218
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
critical theory affect theory Critical Qualitative Research situationism experimental methods
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XIV, 218 pp.

Biographical notes

Peter Zuurbier (Author) Frédérik Lesage (Author)

Peter Zuurbier is a Ph.D. student in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Frédérik Lesage is Assistant Professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.


Title: Masamune’s Blade