‘I Felt Like a Bird Without Wings’: incorporating the study of emotions into grounded normative theory

Contemporary Political Theory 22 (2):187-208 (2023)
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This article explores how giving systematic attention to emotions could enhance grounded normative theory accounts. Grounded normative theory, and related approaches featuring an ‘ethnographic sensibility’, involve the conduct of original empirical research and/or analysis in the development of normative arguments. Each has been increasingly visible in normative political theory, focusing on moral claims in contexts such as migration, democratic practice, and grassroots struggles. Yet, while such approaches have sought to sensitively present experiences of injustice and exclusion within such contexts, they have given relatively little attention to the emotional or ‘affective’ turn in normative theory and social science disciplines, where emotions are studied as integral to political/moral claims and the motivation of action. We highlight how a similar emphasis on emotions as integral to political and moral claims could enrich grounded normative theory, in part through presenting an illustrative analysis of emotional expressions by immigration detainees in the UK. We show how such analysis can expand normative inputs, and clarify or reveal normative issues arising in a given empirical context. We also highlight how grounded normative work could enrich normative treatments of political emotions.



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Luis Cabrera
Griffith University

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