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The Geopolitics of Emotion by Dominique Moisi (thoughts)

October 7, 2013

Geopolitics of Emotion
The Geopolitics of Emotion by Dominique Moisi had the potential to go horribly wrong. Moisi is a French intellectual, and this slim book is his exploration of seeing international politics through the lens of nationwide emotions: specifically hope, fear, and shame. As he associates different emotions with different regions of the world, you can imagine how quickly such an analysis could fall into racist, colonialist, etc. stereotypes of epic proportions. So it was with a mixture of curiousity and concern that I began reading, not to mention a firm intention to abandon the book at the slightest hint of cultural superiority.

Instead, I found a thoughtful, if broad, approach that included enough self awareness that I finished with a great deal of respect for Moisi and what he attempted to do. This is a slim book, with about one hundred fifty pages of text and another twenty or so in notes, bibliography, and index. Clearly, it’s more of a thought experiment than exhaustive scholarly analysis, a fact Moisi freely acknowledges. But I feel like that is one of its strengths: written in a straight forward style, it’s an excellent general public anecdote to the civilisation clash nonsense that seems to pervade international perceptions these days. And while it does use a broad lens to explore current global situations, it never degenerates into oversimplifications. Thus, it’s the kind of book I could happily recommend to people without my intense interest in international affairs, and that they might actually pick up and read. I also think it’d make an excellent group read, either for a book group or just friends who enjoy intellectual conversation.

I suppose part of the appeal for me as well is Moisi’s explicit rejection of a social science tendency to discount emotions and the softer side of human character. Witness neoliberal economics and their “rational man” nonsense. The Geopolitics of Emotion would not be terribly convincing as some kind of international relations Grand Unifying Theory, and it necessarily flattens out all of the complexities of the historical interactions between countries. But as a suggestion to see world politics in a different light, to explore the humanity that has to be part and parcel of what are, at the end of the day, interactions between and decisions made by individuals and the groups they represent, it is valuable. Moisi walks a fine line, but he does it with style.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. dastevensish permalink
    October 7, 2013 6:40 am

    This sounds wonderful! And I’m not even afraid it’s over my head. :P And yay! I already hopped over to the library website and found they have it right here at the local branch. Win-win-win.

    • October 7, 2013 4:54 pm

      Yay! I’m still mildly horrified at the idea of having to pay for local holds. But training brain to think of it as library donations. ;)

  2. October 7, 2013 2:04 pm

    It’s great when nonfiction authors are able to frame something contentious in a way that’s interesting and convincing without being — I don’t know if adversarial is the right word. But without feeling the need to say why everything else is wrong. It sounds like Moisi was saying “and” more than “or” if that makes sense?

    • October 7, 2013 4:55 pm

      Yes! That does make sense & I do think Moisi took that approach. Except he is a bit adversarial re: Huntington, but that just made me like him more. ;)

  3. October 11, 2013 6:17 am

    It looks fascinating. I have to check if my library has it.

  4. October 31, 2013 12:46 pm

    How interesting! The concept gave me the same reaction as you – it could easily be an intellectual train-wreck. Amazing and inspiring to hear that he managed to bring it off. I love the point about emotions, which have been slowly marginalised in social science as people are increasingly seen as rational economic units, even though this bares no relation to the reality of human nature.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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