Cuba and the Politics of Passion

[ Latin American Studies ]

Cuba and the Politics of Passion

By Damián J. Fernández

How the politics of passion and affection have interacted to shape Cuban history throughout the twentieth century.



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6 x 9 | 192 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-72520-1

Cuban politics has long been remarkable for its passionate intensity, and yet few scholars have explored the effect of emotions on political attitudes and action in Cuba or elsewhere. This book thus offers an important new approach by bringing feelings back into the study of politics and showing how the politics of passion and affection have interacted to shape Cuban history throughout the twentieth century.

Damián Fernández characterizes the politics of passion as the pursuit of a moral absolute for the nation as a whole. While such a pursuit rallied the Cuban people around charismatic leaders such as Fidel Castro, Fernández finds that it also set the stage for disaffection and disconnection when the grand goal never fully materialized. At the same time, he reveals how the politics of affection-taking care of family and friends outside the formal structures of government-has paradoxically both undermined state regimes and helped them remain in power by creating an informal survival network that provides what the state cannot or will not.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments

  1. Bringing Back that Loving Feeling: Passion, Affection, and Politics
  2. With Feeling Now: The Political Culture of Cuba Reconsidered
  3. Emotional Political History: Cuba in the Twentieth Century
  4. An Affair of the Heart: Passions, Affection, and Revolution
  5. Losing that Loving Feeling: The Regeneration of Passion and Affection
  6. Where Did Our Love Go? The Politics of lo informal
  7. But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? Passion, Affection, and Civil Society in Transition
  8. Epilogue: Passion and Affection from a Distance

  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

This book does not begin with this sentence. It started years ago, in 1979, when as a senior at Princeton I walked the streets of Havana during a weeklong visit. It was the first time I had been in Cuba since my family and I left in 1963. The experience was emotional and revealing; revealing perhaps because it was emotional. The Cuba I felt did not match the Cuba I had studied in class and read about in books. Something was missing in the political science texts on the topic. This book, two decades later, is an attempt to explain to myself and others what that was.

After years of study and several other visits to the island, I identified what was missing as lo informal (the informal). The literature on Cuba presented a political system and a social system detached from each other and far more formal than what I encountered during my trips. Far from being a characteristic exclusive to one or another set of scholars, formalism was pervasive in a field of study otherwise marked by pronounced cleavages. With time I have come to recognize that the bias toward formality runs deep in the intellectual history of modernity; it is not confined to the study of Cuba. Like the bulk of political science scholarship, the literature on Cuban politics has focused primarily on national and international structures and formal institutions. Even when scholars have emphasized (or overemphasized) the role of leadership, lo informal has not been considered. Informal social practices, the interactions among individuals in everyday life, and their political import have been neglected or rendered invisible. The resulting portrait of what constitutes the social and, by implication, the political has been rigid, inhuman, and much more "rational institutional" than what is true in the day-to-day experience of Cubans.

In the standard academic perspective the Cuban people have appeared as either agents or objects of politics, confined to the categories "masses" or "classes," but not as feeling beings with affective social networks that thrive in the non-state-regulated sphere. The emotional impact of politics and the relevance of emotions for politics have been absent as analytical categories. Even personal testimonies, so much a part of the revolutionary literary experience--for instance, Oscar Lewis's famous Four Lives: Living the Revolution--do not tell the story fully, as the emotional is not made explicitly political. Given the emotional outpouring the revolution of 1959 elicited, and continues to elicit inside and outside the island, even among academics, the absence of the politics of informality and the politics of emotions is nothing short of remarkable.

My concern with social informality and its impact on state-society relations led me to pose a number of questions regarding the feelings and norms expressed in that arena of daily life. What are the codes of the informal? What are the sources of its political culture? What constitutes its hardware, its networks? What impact do informality and the emotional have on formal politics? How do formality and informality intersect? What do they reveal about the limits of state power vis-à-vis the society? What light do the informal and the politics of emotions shed on human action? These queries forced me to consider the sociopolitical role of emotions in the Cuban case. Intuitively I had felt this was important, yet it had remained unspoken as scholars pursued "objective" analysis. Speaking about the emotional was a bit suspect, "soft," "flaky," passé, marginal at best. From the contemporary hegemonic political science paradigm of power and interest, emotions are a nontopic.

As I am of Cuban origin my interest in the affective was seen as especially questionable by the standards of a discipline that asks us not to get too close to the emotional and, most of all, not to become involved with our subject matter, perhaps valuable advice if one were a therapist. From the dominant perspective "others"--racially, intellectually, physically, sexually, and morally "inferior"--rely on emotions rather than on reason. But a passionless discipline cannot make sense of the passions that compel individuals to act politically the world over, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, from Argentina to Yugoslavia. In the United States and in Europe issues such as immigration, civil rights, abortion, ethnicity, and national identity inflame passions. In the Cuban case the political passion exhibited by Cubans and non-Cubans regarding revolutionary politics rivals only human passion for passion. Yet passion has remained outside the parameters of political science, at least in modern scholarship.

After realizing the importance of the sociopolitics of emotions, I set out to find why there was such silence on the issue in political science. This book is the product of what I found in the process, a process that was much more inductive than deductive. What I (re)discovered in a multidisciplinary literature (from the founding fathers of liberalism to recent works by Mansbridge, Lutz, Solomon, Frank, Fukuyama, and Holmes, among others) challenges the reductionist perspective of rational choice theory. The (re)discovery warranted a fresh, if not entirely new, approach to the study of politics: one in which emotions would be reconsidered and reincorporated; one that would not subsume all human action under a narrow rubric of self-interest; one that would not divorce the emotional from the rational or the affective and subjective from the instrumental and institutional; one that would bring together the nonmaterial (including the affective) and the material; one that would be affectively embedded, placing the individual with his or her affective networks in the broader institutional, cultural, and economic context.

This book proposes such an approach. It attempts to bring the emotions back in, or better still, to bring them out--for they have been there, hidden and unrecognized--while not discarding rational choice or falling into the classical dichotomy of reason versus passion. I present a way to reincorporate the emotions into the study of social politics based on the "new romanticism" in philosophy and social constructivism in anthropology. Reason and emotion are understood as mutually reinforcing, culturally intertwined, and significant for the social and, therefore, for the political world. The approach seeks to bridge the divide between assumptions of individualism and institutionalism by attending to connections of affective and cultural embeddedness....


Damián J. Fernández is Chair and Professor of International Relations at Florida International University.

"This book makes a provocative contribution to the field of Cuban studies. Damián Fernández has put his finger on the pulse of Cuban political culture and has offered us an innovative reading of the island's past, present, and possible futures."

—Marifeli Pérez-Stable, Professor of Sociology, SUNY College at Old Westbury