By Kenna Bruner • Published: June 22, 2020
Anthropology students at CU Boulder explore how we feel a pandemic
As graduate students in Professor Carla Jones’ advanced anthropology seminar worked through challenging course materials in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably wove itself into their discussions.
Jones’ class focused on affect theory, a diverse field which analyzes feelings as both personal and public. Affect theory asks how feelings are produced, shared and circulated intimately and interpersonally, making it possible to talk about feelings between people, with other creatures, or the mood of a community or a nation.
While students worked through these questions, they also began to personally experience a mix of the feelings that were topics in the class: fear, anger, grief, humor, love.
For a lot of the students in the class, it was a wonderful opportunity for us to help each other make sense of what we’re going through by doing a dive into the particular themes we were starting to see emerging"
“So much about what we are experiencing feels anxious, uncertain, stressful,” Jones said. “We found ourselves saying it was therapeutic to try and make sense of this moment with the tools affect theory had provided us. For a lot of the students in the class, it was a wonderful opportunity for us to help each other make sense of what we’re going through by doing a dive into the particular themes we were starting to see emerging.”
Students felt strongly about creating a historical archive where they could document these feelings and categorize themes they saw emerging during the coronavirus pandemic. Watching this unfold, Jones decided for their final assignment to give students a choice of writing a review of the field or analyzing one of these themes.
Jones mentioned her students’ essays to Carole McGranahan, an anthropology professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who also edits the online supplement to American Ethnologist, a journal put out by the American Ethnological Society and one of the premier journals of the discipline.
“As soon as Carole heard we were doing this, she thought they would be appropriate for the journal’s website,” Jones said. “Carole was instrumental in getting the students’ work out in the world. So, it’s thanks to her.”
Four of the students who had their essays posted on the “Pandemic Diaries: Affect and Crisis” webpage wrote about what the experience meant to them.