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A Silvan Tomkins Handbook: Foundations for Affect Theory

by Adam J. Frank and Elizabeth A. Wilson

Elizabeth A. Wilson is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Adam J. Frank is Professor in the Department of English Language and Literatures at the University of British Columbia.

The brilliant and complex theories of psychologist Silvan Tomkins (1911–1991) have inspired the turn to affect in the humanities, social sciences, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, these theories are not well understood. A Silvan Tomkins Handbook makes his theories portable across a range of interdisciplinary contexts and accessible to a wide variety of contemporary scholars and students of affect.

A Silvan Tomkins Handbook provides readers with a clear outline of Tomkins’s affect theory as he developed it in his four-volume masterwork Affect Imagery Consciousness. It shows how his key terms and conceptual innovations can be used to build robust frameworks for theorizing affect and emotion. In addition to clarifying his affect theory, the Handbook emphasizes Tomkins’s other significant contributions, from his broad theories of imagery and consciousness to more focused concepts of scenes and scripts. With their extensive experience engaging and teaching Tomkins’s work, Adam J. Frank and Elizabeth A. Wilson provide a user-friendly guide for readers who want to know more about the foundations of affect studies.

“Unique, persuasive, and illuminating, A Silvan Tomkins Handbook is essential reading for advancing the field of affect studies beyond psychological individualisms of all kinds.” Lisa Blackman, author of Haunted Data: Affect, Transmedia, Weird Science

“Adam J. Frank and Elizabeth A. Wilson beautifully demonstrate the distinctiveness, suppleness, complexity, and generativity of Silvan Tomkins’s writings and concepts. The handbook makes vividly and urgently clear how much there remains, in the twenty-first century, to unearth and think through in relation to this distinctive twentieth-century psychologist and to models of affect and subjective experience more broadly.” Felicity Callard, University of Glasgow



From the authors

Our goal in publishing A Silvan Tomkins Handbook open access is to make the book available to interdisciplinary, generalist, and international readerships. We anticipate that this book will be read and used not just by students and scholars in the humanities and social sciences, but also by clinicians who work in contemporary psychodynamic models of treatment where the recognition and interpretation of affect has become a central concern; empirical researchers in disciplines like psychology or sociology who want to return to Tomkins’s theory of affect; and performance and arts practitioners who are curious about how a theory of affect could inform their work. An open access edition of the Handbook is vital if it is to circulate across these disciplinary boundaries, beyond the confines of the academy, and outside the borders of US publishing. We have designed this book to be used.