Evadne Kelly

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Petra Rethmann




Drawing from current anthropological theory of affect, this thesis explores the communication of sensation and affect amongst professional dancers. According to Brian Massumi, affect is about the body's ability to be affected and to affect others. Affecting others opens one to being personally affected and visa versa. Teresa Brennan argues that bodies are porous and receptive to affective non-verbal transmissions. In harmony with these theories, I explore how the communication of affect during dance performance allows both performers and audience to feel communal moments of visceral affectivity.

This thesis adds to the ongoing debate in social theory about whether the body is active or passive (one's position in the debate might also presume that active bodies are "better" than passive bodies or visa versa) since my research findings indicate that, amongst my informants, the body is positively perceived as simultaneously active and passive. In other words, the body simultaneously receives and transmits affect while communicating. This highlights the view that the body is porous and not-self contained as has been argued by both Hegel and Freud.

This thesis has forced me to struggle with what communication means and how I, as a budding anthropologist, would like to communicate in a way that does not require translating or changing experiences to fit another framework of knowledge. The word affect is itself disruptive when set against certain "master" frameworks such as neo-liberalism where great value is placed on speed, moving fast and distraction from feeling. For my informants, moving slowly, being "transparent", existing "in the moment" and revealing vulnerability were essential to the communication of affect and have a disruptive quality when set against neo-liberal values.

McMaster University Library

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