The politics of joy under semi-authoritarianism: the trajectory of joyous struggles in a protest cycle in Hong Kong

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Thomas Yun-tong Tang Independent researcher, Hong Kong SAR

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Previous studies have examined what emotions do when they are mobilised in social movements. However, they have treated the strategic mobilisation of emotions as a movement-centric, linear and one-off process and have not sufficiently explored how emotion management is shaped by forces beyond a single movement and how it is contested. This article studies the strategic mobilisation of joy in three social movements in a protest cycle in Hong Kong and analyses how activists’ competition over feeling rules influences what emotions can be mobilised and how emotions are used under shifting political, organisational and cultural contexts. I find that before 2012 displaying joy was a way of hiding anger and framing social movements in a cultural context that discouraged radicalism and an organisational context that animated tactical diffusion. Yet after 2012 when the regime turned more authoritarian and competition among movement organisations intensified, the expression of anger was prioritised over that of joy by protesters, with certain aspects of joy being regarded as an improper feeling. This led to a divergent use of joy: whereas the expression of everyday joy has been marginalised since 2012, joy used to mock or confront opponents has persisted in the protest field.

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Thomas Yun-tong Tang Independent researcher, Hong Kong SAR

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