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Felt Spaces: Affective Communities in Late Twentieth- and Early Twenty-First-Century American Culture Open Access

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Felt Spaces investigates marginal communities across a range of spaces and subjectivities that exist beyond the bounds of narratives of normalcy or progress. These communities, among them maquiladora workers on the Juárez-El Paso border, crystal meth users in rural Missouri, homeless men in New York City, and genderqueer punks in San Francisco, each fail to (and, at times, refuse to) participate in the normative demands of neoliberal capitalism, under which social, political, and economic forces resonate in the affective experience of everyday life. I mean affect to refer to the interplay of these forces through and between bodies but also, following Raymond Williams, the interplay of forces between bodies and the structures organizing contemporary existence. In conversation with recent works of queer theory and disability studies that expose alternative ways of being that challenge the constant call for normalcy, I argue that through the circulation of affective contact—represented in the texts themselves and also transmitted to their respective audiences—the works examined in this dissertation reveal the connections between seemingly confined narratives of economic dispossession and transnational capitalism. At times Felt Spaces traces the affective dimensions of how these groups are marginalized and raises questions of who is included in mainstream society and culture (and who is not), but more important, the chapters explore the alternative spaces and practices that these communities make for themselves within US culture and argue that these alternative felt spaces created through resistant practices of care, sustenance, and even joy offer openings into a more revolutionary community of resistance. In refusing to be bound by the lens of a specific community, my project complements current scholarship by drawing attention to affect as a source of potential community across identities. My analysis attends to the commonalities these specific local experiences of the economic present bring to light and asks to what extent these critical affective relationships open—or mark the limits of—a space for ethics or justice.

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