A key strand of western political thought stretching from the Stoics to Kant and Rawls, has tended to view the passions and the passionate nature of human beings with suspicion if not outright hostility. Until recently, the passions have drawn the attention of most political theorists and philosophers above all because of their capacity to wreak havoc in the social order. Whatever the term employed: emotions, feelings, affect, desires – they have been called at best incompatible with, at worst disruptive to our prevailing ideal of politics.

From an interdisciplinary perspective, however, the place of the passions in politics looks very different. Emotions are now accepted to be cognitive, particular modes of thought in themselves, rather than contrary to rationality. But if our desires and predilections influence the choices we make, they are necessarily caught up in political judgements, too. The passions are also crucial for providing the emotional basis of individual and social identities, and thus for the collective political communities in which we are all caught up. Similarly, no movement or ideology could do without the passionate conviction of its members to drive political action or change. Our understanding of key moments of social change thus remains impoverished if we fail to take into account the importance of grief as a response to social upheaval, the role of love and empathy in the creation of political and social solidarities, or the roots of political dissent in anger.


This interdisciplinary project around the theme of passions, affects and emotions in politics is based at three institutions at University College London:

UCL Centre for Transnational History
UCL European Institute
UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (SSEES)

This project is generously funded by the UCL Centre for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Project (CHIRP).


Please contact individual members of our team for any further questions.


Between October 2014 and September 2017, the project will develop three perspectives:

First, a historical perspective that will focus on emotion and affect at key turning points in European history from 1789 to the present

Second, a conceptual perspective that will focus on particular political passions (such as love, grief, fear and anger) in critical and philosophical perspective;

Third, a methodological perspective that will focus on the means by which passions are articulated, transmitted, and shared (‘contagion’ and ‘mimicry’).

In order to develop these perspectives, we run a twice-termly reading group, hold two one-day workshops (Spring 2015 and Spring 2016), and host a two-day international conference (Spring 2017).

We will also use this website to collect, over the duration of the project, research and related material; textual, visual and audio sources; podcasts by the project team and blog entries.

Have a look at our events and activities, via this page, or by joining our mailing list on the reading group page