Affective societies, affected scientists! 5 questions to Maria Malmström

The interview series poses questions concerning the role of affects and emotions in research practice and contemporary society to researchers on short-term visit and associate members of the Collaborative Research Center “Affective Societies”. Today, we introduce Maria Frederika Malmström who is Associate Professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, where she, in January 2017, started a collaborative research project “The Materiality of Suspicion and the Ambiguity of the Familiar: Nigerian and Egyptian Cityscapes”.  During the Workshop “Affective Politics and political transformation in Turkey and Egypt”, organized by the subproject C01 “Emotion and Affect within the context of authoritarian Transformation in Egypt and Turkey” (December 5/6 2019), she presented a paper on “Urban bodies in the cityscape of Cairo: Passion, despair and Entanglement”. Radwa Khaled interviewed her on that occasion.

Which research question affects you most at the moment? And what is its social significance?

I have two projects going on. One is about the materiality of suspicion and the other one is about the politics of the ear in relation to masculinities and competing masculinities. This is the most important for me right now. Concerning the social significance of suspicion, I think it is very important to examine and explore suspicion because in the context I’m working in it’s a survival strategy. And again, since I’m working with affects and materialism for me it’s very important to explore the correspondence between for instance things and people. So, if we talk about suspicion: How can we see familiar things? like a cell-phone for instance, something you use to communicate with your family or your spouse. At the same time, you need to be really suspicious of the same thing because it’s a monitor. So, I think these kinds of questions are important and relate to the second half of the question. In relation to the politics of the ear and masculinity: How can we understand more about gender through the politics of the ear? For instance, how do certain desired forms of masculinity get shaped via sound and how can they be resisted with sound or how do you get muted.

Can you think of an emotion whose relevance has recently surprised you?

That’s a really tricky question. I can’t grasp one emotion, that surprises me because the emotions that occur are predictable to my fields. But one thing that I think about in relation to different emotions is, about which I also write in my book, how I was surprised of myself. Of how I could work in and experience high intensity periods when it was more dangerous for me and for other people and experience it at easier than coming back in the kind of low intense periods, where there was this stillness, and depression and hidden rage, where it was also kind of “boring”. I felt the everyday was boring, people were bored, this kind of public attitude really affected me. It was so tough to endure, and also how I got depressed during field work in these kind of low intensity periods. That surprised me, that this was tougher than when it was intense, it was even dangerous. That was kind of a surprise, absolutely.

Do you perceive any affective driving force or affective barrier concerning your research work?

Suspicion absolutely. I actually just wrote an article about how one gets extra suspicious. It’s important to study suspicion and to focus on it during fieldwork, also because it is a survival strategy in autocratic regimes. But at the same focusing on it makes you extra suspicious. It is a barrier because you can get stuck. Concerning the driving force, in the beginning and after the 2011 revolt, this intensity and also difficult period, made people so nude. It is a barrier because one can get stuck in suspicion. A driving force however was the openness of the people at the beginning of the protests, around 2011. So you didn’t have this extra barrier. You could be very close and have this trust almost immediately. You have this close intimate meeting with someone you actually don’t know, because you are there together in something dangerous. This is an absolute driving force. And this is about love. And this is “darouri” (Egyptian Arabic word for “necessary”).

Which book has lately affected you the most?

“Listening to images” by Tina Campt. This is a book that gave me energy, and I would like to do something similar. How to listen to an image or to a photo… can you do that?  She did, and I really like the outcome.

From which feelings or sentiments would you rather refrain from at the moment?

To accept the uncertainty. And not to feel that you are lost in this kind of uncertainty Era of the global world that we are in right now. I think that is really important.


Prof. Malmström´s latest publication:

Malmström, Maria (2019): The streets are talking to me. University of California press.

Further audio and visual work by Prof. Malmström:

Malmström, Maria (2014): Egypt in Motion.

Malmström, Maria (2018): Sound of Economic Collapse in Egypt.