1st Edition

Democracy and Event The Promise and Perils of Catastrophe

By Elaine Stavro Copyright 2024
    202 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    202 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Catastrophes unsettle our safe places within the world. As such, they provide an interesting site to analyze the intersection of our affective and political lives.

    Bringing radical democratic thinking, affect theory, psychoanalysis, and discursive analysis to bear on contemporary catastrophic events, Democracy and Event presents a fresh perspective on the study of affect and its impact on democratic sensibilities and practices. Situated in different countries with differing institutional histories and cultures – the Grenfell Tower fire in London, England (2017); the SARS epidemic in Toronto, Canada (2003); the Parkland shooting in Florida (2018); the early days of the COVID-19 crisis and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA (2020) – Elaine Stavro interprets the rhetoric, discourse, and affective communication of politicians and passionate protestors. She examines their linkages to well-established organizations informed by democratic ideals, as well as the context in which they arise, which have a bearing on their ability to challenge neoliberal and authoritarian practices.

    Inspired by the urgent need to bring theory back to politics and politics back to theory, Elaine Stavro demonstrates how theory might inform our attitudes to contemporary events while recognizing that political action and events cannot be captured in their complexity by theory. Her skillful engagement with various theoretical approaches, read through the lens of catastrophic events, will speak to a wide-ranging scholarly readership in numerous academic fields.

    List of figures


    1 Theoretical perspectives on democratic sensibilities and democratic practices

    Vital materialism: ontologies of lively materiality countering social determinism

    Populist thinkers: turning to the political and away from the social

    Navigating novelty and indeterminacy – embodied creativity versus the post-human

    Rethinking emotion and affect: challenging autonomous affect

    The monstrous event

    2 Engendering fear and racism during the SARS epidemic: a defi cit in deliberative thinking

    The event: the impact of fear

    Debates that frame this catastrophe

    Abjection: scapegoating the Chinese

    The Orientalist thesis – essentializing the Asian – linking negative affect to Social Othering

    Media management of the crisis – the pairing of the war on terror and bioterror

    Representations and responses to the SARS crisis: China versus Toronto

    From fear to disbelief: challenging WHO’s travel advisory

    Attending to emotion’s material effects

    SARS effects on deliberation and democratic decision-making

    Toward a more reliable account of the catastrophe: material conditions – mega slums and global livestock production


    3 Burning inferno: the Grenfell Tower fire in the era of austerity

    The event: affective representations overwhelm facts

    Confronting vital materialists’ and populists’ thinking on affect and emotion

    Social weightlessness

    Fostering solidarity: a tangled event that produced multiple narratives and feelings

    Challenging earlier narratives – the case for investigative journalism

    Applying vital materialism to the event: confederate agency and human responsibility

    A new collective subject fails to emerge

    Attending to larger frames of reference

    The effects of Brexit – ignoring economic interests

    The power of neoliberal governing strategies – the demise of democratic practices

    4 Students’ passionate participation: a democratic movement in the digital age

    The terrifying event

    The public sphere in the age of internet and social media – the prospect for democratic opinion formation

    MOFL’s success: cultivating affective solidarity and pursuing strategic actions

    Differences in social powers: March for Our Lives versus Black Lives Matter

    Collaboration across differences: practice surmounts theoretical problems

    Striving for a leaderless movement: achievements and compromises

    Strategic actions in the face of a history of defeats

    The government’s response or lack thereof

    Gun culture: another impediment to gun control

    Institutional and cultural differences matter

    5 President Trump’s response to the COVID pandemic: a ective ideology and authoritarian mismanagement

    The turn to facts in a world of fear: a veneer of certainty

    Eschewing scientific expertise and journalistic critique

    Social Othering strategies: blaming the democrats, China, and WHO

    Cultivating a divided and uninformed public: the effects of anti-science and anti-expert sentiments

    Efforts to consolidate affective solidarity: “we are all in this together” #alonetogether

    Trump’s populism: corporate freedom versus public well-being

    Populist leadership: the allure of tough talk

    Mishandling of COVID: the erosion of democratic procedures


    Thinking critically about the pandemic: why were we unprepared?

    The promises and perils of the COVID catastrophe

    6 The murder of George Floyd and the meteoric rise of Black Lives Matter: the success of an affectively rich event

    Affective solidarity: the power of the event

    The appearance of Black Lives Matter: a political movement in the digital age

    Symbolic politics, celebrity support, performative activism – the process of emotional reorientation

    Spontaneous affective events – dismantling statutes waiving public debate

    Ambiguity of violence: triggering solidarity and undermining support

    The counter-narratives of the alt-right: stoking up fear and loathing

    Emotional reflexivity: the power of reason and good arguments

    Transforming beliefs: raising awareness of systemic racism

    Strategies and ideals of BLM – the complicated path toward instantiating democratic practices

    Moving forward: a case for social democracy or billionaires’ charities?





    Elaine Stavro is Professor Emerita of Political Theory in the Department of Political Studies at Trent University. She has written numerous articles on Simone de Beauvoir, most recently “Why Thoughtfulness Matters Black Lives Matter and Elsewhere,” forthcoming (2023), in Simone de Beauvoir: A Toolkit for the 21st Century and published Emancipatory Thinking: The Political Thought of Simone De Beauvoir (2018). Her research interest focuses on feminist thinking, continental philosophy, radical democratic theory, and the intersection of deliberation and affect, as reflected in “SARS and Alterity: The Toronto-China Binary” in Political Science (2014).