There’s no emotional labour in Florence Nightingale’s nursing

A lot of nurses pass through this course.

They usually take a keen interest in the notion of emotional labour, which is examined in Unit 3 ‘Selling Emotions: Emotional Labour’.

‘Emotional labour’ refers to a kind of work in which employees have to induce feelings they don’t feel and/or suppress feelings they do feel, the purpose of which is to create a certain emotional state in others, usually customers.

Nurses are expected to be compassionate and kind towards patients. They are supposed to care. They are care givers. Nurses are expected to make patients feel cared for. And this regardless of the characteristics and behaviour of patients, who are as capable as the rest of us of being boorish, awkward and heavy (there’s a lot of heaving lifting in nursing). People don’t become angels just because they get sick.

‘Emotional labour’ usually helps nurses make more sense of their work. They realize that they are suppressing  real feelings about what they do and trying real hard to have the feelings expected of them. Hiding what they feel and faking what they don’t is exhausting. It lies behind the tremendous level of burnout and sickness among nurses. They are often forced to choose between their own health and that of their patients.

But that’s not all. Increasingly, the emotional labour of nursing takes place in branded health organizations. A brand is a good or service wrapped in an emotional persona. An emotional narrative connects health care professionals and their ‘clients’. Like Disney ‘cast members’ they must follow a script and always be in character. This kind of caring isn’t felt, it’s quantified and measured as nursing ‘outcomes’.

The corollary of emotional branding is the commodification of that which is branded, in this case health care. When health care is branded the nature of the therapeutic relationship is transformed. Whereas ‘patients’ are people to be cared for and treated, customers or clients are people we sell things to—drugs, technological interventions and ‘care’ itself.

Here one thinks of Magnet Hospitals. See also:

Mayo clinic

Where did this nurse-as-care-giver come from?

It is surely related to a belief that there is a moral component to illness. All that pain and suffering must mean something. Getting better is a moral process too. That’s why nurses must empathize.

There is also a connection to the Magdalene strand of Christian theology. Nurses must empathize, feel the suffering of patients. And who better to empathize than someone who knows suffering first hand. This is the nurse-as-Mary-Magdalene, a fallen woman who redeemed herself through a lifetime of penance. This air of redemption through penance lies behind the much admired nurse-as-nun. By this account, nurses are supposed to suffer.

Another influence is the invention of the nurse-as-heroine by romantic novelists. A disappointment in love transports our heroine to war hospitals in distant lands. The wounded and the dying become surrogates for  lost love. The English Patient: Hana, just 18 when she leaves to become a nurse in the war. Her English patient with ‘hip bones like Christ’, a noble warrior who suffers for his actions. An abandoned monastery …

The model for this imagined nurse is the popular image of Florence Nightingale, tending the Crimean wounded by candlelight, the lady with the lamp.

Florence Nightingale is the lady-with-the-lamp

Florence Nightingale as the lady-with-the-lamp

The actual Nightingale is a very different proposition. Nightingale is acknowledged as the founder of modern nursing. But hold on. There’s a lot of emotional labour in ‘modern’ nursing, but there’s none whatsoever in Nightingales Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not (1859). Reading this book today, one suspects that her critique of emotional labour would be withering. Let’s consider why.

Her approach to nursing is based on her understanding of disease, as a natural reparative process. Diseases are not separate entities ‘out there’ but reactions to conditions in which we have placed ourselves (p. 19). They are not ‘caught’ by infection but ‘begun’ from want of cleanliness, ventilation and light (Nightingale 1859, p. 19). Put another way, diseases are an organism’s capacity to act, but they require specific conditions for that capacity to be exercised.

The belief that small-pox, for example, ‘was a thing of which there was once a first specimen in the world, which went on propagating itself, in a perpetual chain of descent, just as much as that there was a first dog, (or a first pair of dogs), and that small pox would not begin itself any more than a new dog would begin without without there having been a parent dog’.

‘Since then I have seen with my eyes and smelt with my nose small-pox growing up in first specimens, either in close rooms or in overcrowded wards, where it could not by any possibility have been “caught”, but must have begun’. (Nightingale 1859, p. 23)

‘I have seen diseases begin, grow up, and pass into one another …. I have seen, for instance, with a little overcrowding, continued fever grow up; and with a little more, typhoid fever; and with a little more, typhus, and all in the same ward or hut’ (p. 23).

‘It is well known that the same names may be seen constantly recurring on workhouse books for generations. That is, the persons were born and brought up, and will be born and brought up, generation after generation, in the conditions which make paupers. Death and disease are like the workhouse, they take from the same family, the same house, or in other words the same conditions. Why will we not observe what they are?’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 70, my emphasis).

From this understanding of disease flows Nightingale’s nursing practice. Conditions make paupers. Conditions make death and disease. Nursing, then, should focus on conditions.

For Nightingale, disease is ‘not necessarily accompanied by suffering’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 5). Rather, suffering is caused by practical matters which hinder’s nature’s reparative process, such as the want of fresh air, natural light, warmth, quiet, cleanliness, or a sensible diet.

The first canon of nursing? ‘To have the air within as pure as the air without’ (p. 9). (‘Windows are made to open, doors are made to be shut’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 12).)

‘Second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 51). (‘A dark house is always an unhealthy house, always an ill-aired house, always a dirty house. Want of light stops growth, and promotes scrofula, rickets, etc., among the children’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 16).)

The most cruel absence of care which can be inflicted either on the sick or well’? Unnecessary noise (Nightingale 1859, p. 27).

She talks of walls hung with cares, ghosts of troubles haunting beds, of ‘the cruelty of letting [patients] stare at a dead wall’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 38, my emphasis), for ‘the craving for variety in the starving eye, is just as desperate as that for food in the starving stomach’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 35).

‘To any but an old nurse, or an old patient, the degree would be quite inconceivable to which the nerves of the sick suffer from seeing the same walls, the same ceiling, the same surroundings during a long confinement to one or two rooms’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 37, my emphasis).

Here’s something for the digital age: ‘I have never known persons who exposed themselves for years to constant interruption who did not muddle away their intellects by it at last’ (Nightingale 1859, p. 33).

Where does all this take us?

‘Caring’ for Nightingale does not entail a responsibility for patients’ emotions. It means caring for nature’s reparative process by creating the conditions for it to do its work. ‘Care’ means care-ful attention to patients and their practical conditions. It is nature herself which is kindly, compassionate (or, one supposes, not). In the book, ‘care’ is most often associated with ‘common sense’.

This sounds to me like good advice.

The voice in Notes on Nursing and the very way Nightingale lived her life tells us loud and clear that we are each responsible for our own emotions.

In this light, consider the kerfuffle caused by the recent research* of Dr. Anna Smajdor who contends that nurses (and doctors) do not have to treat patients with compassion.

‘Compassion is not a necessary component of healthcare, since the crucial tasks associated with healthcare can be carried out in the absence of compassion.

‘One can remove an appendix without caring about the person it is taken from, empty a bedpan without caring about the patient who has filled it, or provide food without caring about the person who will eat it.’

‘Unless we regard healthcare professionals as saints, we cannot demand that they guarantee an unlimited flow of compassion for each patient. Indeed, it is not only unfair, but dangerous to do so.’ (Source)

Nightingale, I believe, would agree.

* Smajdor’s research appears in the current issue of Clinical Ethics and is not yet publicly available. When it is, I will return to this issue.

Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing: What is is and what it is not (1859) is freely available on the internet. I downloaded it from the internet archive here. It reads well on an iPad.

Midwives in the Congo

via MSF Delivers 3D – YouTube.

This short film is a production of DuckRabbit, an interesting digital production company.

“We work with documentary audio, still photography and video to make compelling film and audio narratives for commercial, charity and broadcast clients.  We also train photographers, videographers, journalists and communications professionals in audio-visual storytelling and online strategic communications.”

This 3D film for Médecins Sans Frontières looks at the often dramatic life of a British midwife working in an MSF supported maternity hospital in Masisi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Will of Angelina Jolie


When I heard that Angelina Jolie had decided to have a preventative double mastectomy, upon discovering that she has the ‘faulty’ gene BRCA1, I was reminded of this:

‘You tremble, carcass? You would tremble a lot more if you knew where I am taking you.’

The words are attributed to the French General Turenne (1611-75). Sometimes during battle his body would tremble with fear and so he command it with words, as one would a servant. (That’s him above at the Battle of the Dunes June 14th, 1658).

The Turenne quotation appears in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs (first published 1887), in the section in which he examines human will.

Nietzsche is unimpressed by modern ‘man’, for whom the ‘will’ exists mostly to justify guilt, as something to blame. Against this, Nietzsche argues that the will is the energy of the feeling of life. It is itself an emotion, the emotion of command over oneself. We are at the same time the commanding and the obeying parties.

For Nietzsche, the will of the modern human is broken; it no longer commands anything.

The same, it seems, cannot be said of Angelina Jolie. She did not succumb to self-pity or hopelessness. She ruled her emotions, they did not rule her. Her decision to have her breasts surgically removed is impressive precisely because it suggests an enormous strength of will. Not fearlessness, but courage, i.e., not an absence of fear, but an ability to overcome it.

One must need strength, otherwise one will never have it. But one never knows whether one has it, or not, until after one acts. Hence courage.

But there is more to this than meets the eye.

Perhaps it was the triumph of one kind of fear (the fear of leaving her children motherless) over another kind of fear (the fear of losing two attributes of femininity.)

And then there is the power of the ideology of DNA and the biological determinism it entails. I’ll examine this in the next post.

Women hit back at India’s rape culture—India’s Red Brigade

Women hit back at India’s rape culture | World news | The Observer.

The men watch sullenly as they pass, like wolves who have just discovered the sheep are armed. No one risks a word.


The Red Brigade’s blog is here.

Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection of Jesus

Today is Easter Sunday. On this day, Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, following his crucifixion on the Friday. That he died for our sins and was brought back to life by God and ascended to Heaven to join him is the basis of Christianity. Christian believers in the resurrection are themselves spiritually resurrected and given a new life.

The factual accuracy of the crucifixion and resurrection is not my concern here. I’m interested in the role of Mary Magdalene in the narrative of these events, for this role refutes the widespread view of her as a ‘fallen’ woman, a repentant prostitute.

Having been resurrected, ascended to Heaven, some believe Jesus is going to return to earth (the Second Coming). According to a Pew survey, approximately half of US Christians believe Jesus will return to earth in the next 40 years. Some Christian Zionists believe that a precondition of the Second Coming is the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and this lies behind their unconditional support of Israel in its occupation of Palestinian land.

So all this is much more than an issue for biblical scholars.

Leaving all this aside for now, What was Mary Magdalene role during the resurrection?

  • She was the first to discover the empty tomb.
  • It was to her that the risen Jesus revealed himself (in the guise of a gardener).
  • Jesus appointed her as an apostle to the apostles, to bring them news of his resurrection.
  • She was not only the equal of the other disciples, she became their leader, indeed of the early Christian movement.
  • She teaches them about her experience of the resurrection.

Nothing there about being a penitent ex-prostitute. Quite the contrary.

From the Canonical Gospel of John (20: 11-18)

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ’Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ’They have taken away myLord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,’Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?‘ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ’Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ’Mary!‘ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ’Rabbouni!’ (which m e a n s Teacher). Jesus said to her, ’Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

From the Apocryphal Gospel of Philip (36,59)

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, andMagdalene,the one who was called his companion … [Jesus] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.

From the Apocryphal Gospel of Mary (5:2-3, 8-9; 9~3-4)

Then Mary stood up and greeted all of them and said to her brethren, ’Do not mourn or grieve or be irresolute, for his grace will be with you all and will defend you. Let us rather praise his greatness, for he prepared us and made us into men.’ . . . Mary began to speak to them these words:… ’I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him, “Lord, I saw you  to day in a vision”. He answered and said to me, “Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight  of me. For where the mind is, there is the treasure”. Peter answered and … questioned them about the Saviour: ‘Did He really speak with a woman without our knowledge (and) not openly? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?’

Mary Magdalene was a much more important figure in the early church than we have been led to believe. Certainly, she was nothing like the ‘fallen’ repentant woman depicted by the Roman Catholic church for hundreds of years. Some feminist biblical scholars are rewriting Christian theology on the basis of this Mary Magdalene-as-leader. That there is an appetite for this new reading is suggested by the hugely popular The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

This is a BBC documentary broadcast last Friday:

Melvyn Bragg on Mary Magdalene

What Mary Magdalene did at the crucifixion of Jesus

The issue here is not Jesus, but female sexuality and male violence against women in the here-and-now, founded in Christian theology’s female triumvirate:

  • Garden-of-Eden Eve, man’s ‘temptress’, the source of his original sin.
  • Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, who experienced immaculate conception.
  • Mary Magdalene, a prostitute who was ‘saved’ by Jesus who taught her to redeem herself through a lifetime of penance.

The bottom line of this theological position is that sinfulness is ingrained in the female body and that women have an inbuilt sense of shame and men have an inbuilt sense of entitlement.

Any one who thinks that this is a ancient history should see The Magdalene Sisters:

They should read Magdalene laundries: UK women’s ‘fast settlement’ calls and watch this:

The effects of this theology live on in today’s women’s shelters.

One can accept that Jesus and Mary were actual people and these events happened, without being bound to any theological interpretation of them.

Over the past 20-30 years, feminist Christian scholars have researched this Mary from Magdala and discovered that she is nothing like the theological stereotype. More of this later.

This Good Friday, let us note simply:

During the Crucifixion, she stayed with Jesus while his male disciplines fled out of fear of being detained by Roman soldiers.

Jesus was charged with treason and killed because the Romans feared he would lead an uprising against them.

She stayed with his body, mourned his death and was present that evening when it was wrapped in a linen cloth and entombed.

NB The Magdalene Sisters was based on the documentary Sex in a Cold Climate (1998). Grimmer, monochrome. Equally gripping.

The lady in the featured image is a survivor of one of the Magdalene laundries. She appears in ‘Sex in a Cold Climate’. Unfortunately, I do not know her name.

Pope Gregory Creates the Penitent Woman thus

The Libellus responsionum: a papal letter said to have been written by Pope Gregory to Augustine of Canterbury.

The Libellus responsionum: a papal letter said to have been written by Pope Gregory to Augustine of Canterbury.

Pope Gregory I in 591:

She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected, according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices?

It is clear my brothers that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner.

She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance, for as much as she had wrongly held God in contempt.

These words mark the beginning of Church doctrine on Mary Magdalene. It stayed in place until 1969 and it shaped relations between men and women during that time.

This Easter, we’re going to look at the actual, real life Mary Magdalene and her role in the crucifixtion and resurrection of the actual, real life Jesus.

Emotions, empathy and moral judgement in Delhi

india_delhi_rape_protests_dec_2012_6-1The emotional reaction in the streets of India to the gang rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi is a powerful moral force, a show of solidarity with her, her family and other victims of sexual violence.

Were it not for this pressure, the suspects may very well have escaped unpunished, as happens in so many other cases in India (and elsewhere, of course). The government knows it has to act quickly to bring these suspects to trial and introduce measures to protect women from sexual assault.

What is interesting about the emotional basis to the groundswell of moral support is that emotions are normally thought to hinder moral decision-making. Here they surely aid it.

Belief in antipathy between emotions and moral decisions is the backbone of the Western judicial system. Judges, as a matter of course, instruct juries to make decisions on an impartial assessment of the evidence, and ‘without sympathy, prejudice or fear’.

For example, the jury of the famous O.J. Simpson trial was instructed: ‘You must not be influenced by mere sentiment, conjecture, sympathy, passion, prejudice, public opinion, or public feeling.’

There was nothing mere, however, about the sentiment, sympathy, passion, public opinion and public feeling, among those who took to the streets in support of this young woman.

This suggests that the role of emotions in moral judgments is worth reconsidering.

To this end, I want to draw on David Pizarro’s article ‘Nothing more than feeling? The role of emotion in moral judgment’. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, Volume 30 Issue 4 Page 355 – December 2000.

Pizarrro outlines conventional wisdom on the relationship between emotions and morality. It is known within popular culture in the form of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, for whom emotions are illogical. Pizarro condenses the conventional view into this syllogism:

  1. emotions are always partial, arbitrary, and passive,
  2. moral judgments should be impartial, well-grounded, and freely made, therefore
  3. emotions are detrimental to moral judgments, and are to be avoided in moral decision-making (Pizarro, p. 258).

Pizarro then draws on recent knowledge about emotions to argue that the conventional view in untenable.

  1. Emotions are not always partial, arbitrary and passive.
  2. Emotions, moreover, reflect moral beliefs and principles; they are not raw responses to situations.
  3. Emotions can actually aid reasoning by focusing our attention and cognitive resources on the problem at hand.

The Delhi rape and murder is a good example of this alternative view. The emotional reactions of protestors alerted them to the presence of a moral issue and as long as they stand united, it will not go away.

Pizarro allows that, in some circumstances, emotions can undermine moral decision-making, but ‘in the light of our understanding of emotion and emotional processes’ (p. 358)‚ he questions the belief that they can never aid, and always harm moral judgment. Indeed, he argues that, knowing what we now do about emotions, they are desirable for the process of moral decision-making.

Central to Pizarro’s argument is our capacity to regulate our emotions. This ‘is what gives us the ability to defeat the partial, passive and arbitrary nature of emotions when necessary, in order to fulfill a moral goal’ (p. 370). This capacity ‘allows us to utilize their influence to serve our higher-order moral beliefs, as an energy source of moral judgments and actions’ (p. 371); Pizzaro’s point is that, in some circumstances, affective arousal and moral beliefs may complement each other.

Interestingly, a similar argument has been made in support of angry judges. [See ‘Are angry judges better than “robots“?’

Pizarro develops a theory of emotive moral judgment  by examining empathy, which he understands as the experience of feelings/emotions similar in kind to those expressed by or known to exist in another person. Empathy is a moral emotion because it causes concern for the welfare of others. Put simply, we feel for the other.

Feeling empathy is a moral signal or marker. It sensitizes us to the distress of the other. It cues the individual to the possibility that a morally relevant event is taking place.

A feeling of empathy is not at odds with moral beliefs, rather, it embodies them. Empathy rests upon previously formed moral beliefs and attitudes, i.e., the cognitive antecedents of empathetic arousal. Emotional reactions, or the lack of them, reveal moral priorities. [Perhaps this is what President Obama has in mind by ‘empathy deficit‘)

When a person feels empathy, the empathic arousal leads to motivation to make a moral judgment.

Pizzaro allows that empathy can sometimes lead us to violate a moral principle. However, a capacity to experience empathy plus an ability to regulate it effectively are necessary to be a moral person.

Interestingly, for such an important quality, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that ’empathy’ is a little over one hundred years old.

Here then is a framework to be tried and tested in analysis of the unfolding drama in Delhi.

To that end, does it work, does it help?


Trust Women Conference

On ‘Eve-ing’ in India

William Blake 'The Temptation and the Fall of Eve'

William Blake ‘The Temptation and the Fall of Eve’

I gather from the news reports on the scandalous gang rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi that sexual harassment of women by men in India is known as ‘Eve-ing’.

I do not know enough about Hinduism to be sure, but it seems likely that this ‘Eve’ is a reference to Garden-of-Eden Eve, man’s ‘temptress’, the source of man’s original sin.

Eve is one of Christian theology’s female triumvirate, the others being:

Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, who experienced immaculate conception.

Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, who was ‘saved’ from this way of life by Jesus, who taught her how to redeem herself through repentance. Mary Magdalene, the ever-grateful fallen woman, she of downcast, inward-looking, penitent eyes, rosary in her hands, redeemed through a lifetime of penance.

Mary Magdalene suffers to redeem Eve’s original sin.

Mary the virgin. Mary the ever grateful fallen woman, redeemed through a lifetime of penance. Eve the temptress, the source of man’s original sin. Mary Magdalene suffers to redeem Eve’s original sin.

These three women are the stars of Christianity’s moral code for women, built-up over 2,000 years; a code interpreted when and wherever people lived in Christendom and made concrete in their daily lives.

It is difficult to see how this view of women could not have shaped relations between the sexes. How could it not influence the internal moral life of women and the male gaze?

The implication is that pleasures of the flesh are dangerous and that sinfulness is ingrained in the female body. It gives men a sense of entitlement and women an inbuilt sense of shame.

In short: Do penance—sisters—or perish.

I do not know much about the role of Mary, Mary and Eve in Islam (I welcome comments on this) but if it’s anything like the above, it surely helps explain why men call their sexual harassment of women ‘Eve-ing’. Women ‘make’ them do it.

The main problem with this account of these three historical figures is that there’s no truth in it. Feminist Biblical scholars have established, fairly conclusively I think, that this characterization of Mary, Mary and Eve has little foundation in the Bible.

The ‘fallen woman’ Mary is a composite fiction formed by conflating the actual Mary with several other un-named Gospel female characters. In the Eastern Christian tradition these three Marys are different people.

The composite Mary was sanctioned in 591 by Pope Gregory (the Great) in these words:

She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected, according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices?

It is clear my brothers that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner.

She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance, for as much as she had wrongly held God in contempt.

Mary-the-Penitent was official doctrine until 1969, that’s 1378 years, when the Roman Catholic Church overruled Pope Gregory’s interpretation. But that’s a lot of tradition to shift.

Since then, feminist scholars have dismantled the Mary-as-whore image and discovered a Mary from Magdala, a woman of courage, leadership and independence who fought for those suffering from injustice.

Anyone who thinks the civilized West is above all this should see The Magdalene Sisters.

Rape and the Transmission of Affect

An Indian protestor reacts as police officials intervene

Not least of the trauma of being raped is its lingering emotional residue. Physical wounds heal, but emotional wounds often do not.

Victims can feel compelled to wash themselves repeatedly, as if physical cleansing could somehow penetrate beneath the skin to the emotional wound within.

They feel ‘dirty’. They feel haunted or occupied by a shadowy presence which they must find a way of exorcising.

This is rather more than the predictable feeling of shame that Judeo-Christian morality trains women to feel when ‘violated’. [I will address that in a day or so.] It is something else.

In her book, The Transmission of Affect, Teresa Brennan argues that the rapist transfers his toxic emotions—anger, shame, guilt, impotence and feelings of worthlessness—to the victim and feeds, vampire-like, on her life force. The rapist feels empowered; the victim feels worthless. It is this alien emotional presence she feels and wants rid of.

The notion of ‘transmission of affect’, however, is no metaphor. There is no ‘as if’ about it. It’s a real process. A depressed person, for example, is a black hole of negative emotional energy. He or she can drain friends and family of energy without stirring a muscle. Emotions can pass from person to person quicker than a forest fire through tinder dry woodland.

That this happens is not in doubt. Unit 5 of this course, Emotions, Bodies, Societies, provides the means of understanding how this happens.

Teresa Brennan died before her book was published; struck by a car while crossing a road near her home in Florida. She was 51.


Teresa Brennan. 2003. The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

A useful introduction to Brennan’s ideas is:

Jane Caputi. ‘Take Back What Doesn’t Belong to Me’: Sexual Violence, Resistance and the ‘Transmission of Affect’. Women’s Studies International Forum. Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 1-14.

Caputi draws her title from a Sinead O’Connor song. Here is another one: