Bereft of a new idea? Produce a neologism for an old one. On Sara Ahmed’s ‘stickyness’

Sara Ahmed, the icon of liberal progressive thought, has proposed the theoretical neologism of ‘stickyness’. It’s not when honey drips on your fingers, or when you wear your undies for a week. It concerns words and ideas that are associated with a term. She proposes this in relation to race, in which a certain term has all sorts of other things that ‘stick’ to it.

Original? Hardly. I do believe that is known as connotation in semiotic circles, but it also has a much more robust presence in the work of someone like G.E.M. de Ste. Croix. Here class is the key. When Plato asks, ‘what is good?’, it is hardly an innocent term, for it evokes all manner of ruling class assumptions, in opposition to the despised slaves and rural labourers.

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8 thoughts on “Bereft of a new idea? Produce a neologism for an old one. On Sara Ahmed’s ‘stickyness’

  1. I do believe that is known as connotation in semiotic circles…

    That’s “stickiness”, not “stickyness”, you cultural buffoon.

    But what interests me here is relating the denotation/connotation binary to the conceptual field from which stickiness derives. In particular, what if we were to apply the contention of the Other Roland (Barthes) that connotation precedes denotation to the Ahmedian notion of stickiness? Connotation would then appear as the fluffyness to the Ahmedian-Boerean denotative stickiness. And who hasn’t tried to tape up some wrapping paper with sticky-tape, only to discover that some fluff or stray pubic hair has adhered to it? But what is important here, from a critical standpoint, is that the stickiness attracts the free-floating fluffiness or hairiness. And, likewise, in language, ‘previously’ free-floating connotations (although, ‘not yet’ connotations of a denotation) congeals into a denotative ball of stickyness.

    We might also, at some later date, also consider the different connotations of “fluffiness” and “hairyness”, and the different ways in which they are attracted to the stickiness which is denotation.

    1. I’m proud to be so ‘uncultured’, especially if ‘culture’ means some wanky stuff that the middle class likes to do.

      Looks like you’ve been reading too much Ahmed …

  2. I haven’t read Ahmed’s piece about “stickyness”, but from what you describe, can’t see how it adds much to Stuart Hall’s fairly popular work on race, articulation and hegemony from a semiotic angle

  3. Actually, I just remembered “sticky words” from Cultural Politics of Emotion. In that case I have read it and thought much the same thing as you, but that’s it’s harmless compared to some of the “new materialism” / “affect theory” stuff, which I’m becoming more and more sceptical about

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