What are the emotional boundaries of inclusion?

There are three events kicking off in Winnipeg this Thursday September 17th.

Mayor Brian Bowman’s “1 Winnipeg: National Summit on Racial Inclusion” is launching at the Human Rights Museum. There will be a simultaneous launch of “Winnipeg’s Local Inclusion Summit” hosted by an indigenous led, immigrant involved coalition of grassroots groups at the Odena Circle at the Forks.

The national summit grew out of the mayor’s strategic response plan following Nancy McDonald’s Maclean’s article published in January which suggested Winnipeg is the most racist city in Canada. The local summit grew out of the fact that many extremely involved grassroots organizers are concerned by the fact that very few local groups were consulted regarding the national summit. And then there’s the fact that, to many people, the national summit’s $50 a seat price tag seems a bit steep for an event that claims to be inclusive. This is all going down at the same time and nearly at the same place – the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is only a five minute walk away at the Odena Circle. Be there or be square.

In the build up to these two events there has been a lot of chatter concerning the differences in the approaches to addressing racism that these two summits embody. They also raise questions about the relative legitimacy of top-down versus grassroots approaches to changing social realities which have long histories and are entrenched in both economic and political structures . I’m not going to wade into the various debates now. You can see the information on the national summit here1 and a description of the local summit here 2.

One question in particular has emerged for me regarding both events is, what is meant by inclusion? More specifically, what are the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion? Of course racism has to do, at least at one level, with the exclusion of people from certain parts of society based on their identity and inclusion suggest that the barriers need to be removed, or at least made more permeable. Surely there will be various relevant structural and historical issues on the agenda at the national summit, and many of the same issues will no doubt come up during the grandfather-stone talking circles at the local summit. I’d like to take a moment to reflect briefly on the role of emotions in forming the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion.

Coincidentally, this leads me to the third kick-off event happening on Thursday. The date of these two these local and national summits coincides with the start of the international conference on “Affect: Memory, Aesthetics and Ethics,” hosted by the Affect Project – an interdisciplinary group of scholars I work with at the University of Manitoba (check it out!) 3. I certainly hope that if there are any Affect Conference attendees reading this, you will make an effort to come out to this truly unprecedented dual-event opportunity (just a short walk from the Fort Gary Hotel!) Indeed, these inclusion-based events speak to the notion of affect on many levels. One of the interest that has been driving much of my own thinking during my time with the Affect Project has to do with the idea of affective edges (I’m using affect here in a sense close to public emotion). Affective edges can be seen both in terms of the 1) the threshold that private feelings must cross to become public, as well as, 2) the social and spatial edges which divide people.

So I’ve been wondering, where do the affective edges lie in relation to these two inclusion summits? For instance, how symbolic of Winnipeg’s emotional boundaries are the new, huge glass walls of the Human Rights Museum separating $50 ticketers from the ancient, open air meeting place where the local organizers are rallying at Odena circle? What do these emotional boundaries say about how these groups, which obviously have different spheres of influence, interact with each other? Without going into great depth here, a few things that come to mind.

  1. the private boundaries that sometimes keep difficult emotions repressed have been substantially transgressed by the majority of the people who will attends both events – these are public forms after all.
  2. The fact that there are two different events that have come about in very different ways, but which are ostensibly addressing the same issues suggest to me a really interesting affective edge within Winnipeg more broadly. This is interesting because whatever contours these affective edges follow, they seems to divide (and subdivide) these two groups of people who have largely separate spheres of experiential reality, while both are still largely in favour of greater inclusion. How related are the futures that these groups are hoping for?
  3. In the case of the two separate events, the affective edges do not seem to correspond exactly to ethic identities. Both forms have very diverse representation. Does this suggest a gulf based more on class in this particular instance?
  4. Both events explicitly state that they’re committed to taking practical steps to change the status quo. If this is genuine, than there should be some productive upheaval and unsettling moments during and after these summits. Even in short periods of instability and uncertainty, boundaries made up of affective edges are much more susceptible to being substantially modified.
  5. To what extent can affective edges actually be part of prefiguring new inclusive emotional spaces? How long might expanded emotional boundaries last? Can shifting affective edges influence policy, without instrumentalizing and debasing human feeling?

If you’re reading this and you want to both witness and be part of a renegotiation of the affective edges of Winnipeg social boundaries, come on down to Odena Circle, 6 PM on Thursday. Unless, of course, you already have your 1Winnipeg tickets. Then perhaps we can meet in the middle. Wherever that may be.