In this postscript, I want to reflect on one aspect of the arguments raised by many of the other chapters included here: what does the study of affect have to do with the empirical? The question ‘What is the empirical?’ is one that I have already posed in a collection with this title that I coedited with Lisa Adkins (Adkins and Lury, 2009). One of the contributions — that by Patricia Clough — provides a helpful starting point for me in returning to this question here, especially insofar as she situates her response to the question in relation to a history of the social sciences, and in particular, US sociology, in the postwar period. Her claim, following George Steinmetz (2005), is that sociology has been dominated by methodological positivism, evident not only in much quantitative sociology but also in some (perhaps much) qualitative sociology. She writes,
Most importantly, qualitative methodology privileged empiricism as methodological positivism does… So, although most qualitative meth-odologists assumed that empirical reality is only meaningful through interpretive processes, these processes were understood to be open to empirical investigation through ‘naturalistic’ observation … [which] presumes the obdurateness of the empirical world, or the independence of the empirical world from interpretation, while it takes for granted participants’ interpretations of their social worlds without suspecting participants of being subject to structurally informed limitations to their understanding or interpretations. Participants’ interpretations are simply part of the empirical world. (2009, pp. 45–46)
In a further step, Clough suggests that Steinmetz’s history points to a ‘complicity between sociological methodology and governance and economy … After all, [his] notion of an epistemological unconscious evokes that which is and must remain un-thought in the methods of sociology’ (2009, p. 45).