Fluctuating affect: Purpose and deflation in paths of self-development

Gil Hizi


This article spotlights the role of affect in paths of “self-development,” focusing on young adults in China who engage in various training programs. Informed by market-driven expertise, individuals configure their feelings as central for their ability to execute their tasks and enhance their socioeconomic competence. Thus, they seek to induce and manage affect while combating the purposeless attitudes that they ascribe to Chinese everyday life. However, young adults are also frequently confronted with their inability to convert affect to palpable endpoints, leading them to frequent deflation and self-examination. Drawing on the works of Sara Ahmed and Lauren Berlant, I delineate this dialectic of high and low affect. I argue that rather than undermining productivity, low affect and its perceived negative valence are integral to a trajectory of self-development where individuals shift between projects and renew their commitment to an underlying ethos, notwithstanding the prevailing impasses of the Chinese socioeconomic landscape.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/717568