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Sweatless Diplomacy: Labour and the Affective Atmospheres of Aviation Geopolitics

Authors: Weiqiang Lin*, National University of Singapore
Topics: Cultural Geography, Political Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: Diplomacy, sweat, affect, atmosphere, aviation, geopolitics, political summits
Session Type: Paper
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This paper uses the metaphor of sweat—and sweatlessness—to reflect on the pressured conditions under which diplomacy takes place. In recent years, geographers have paid increasing attention to the everyday practices of diplomats, identifying their (e)motions as crucial sites where geopolitical assemblages and decisions are being made. However, this paper argues that the said research can go further, by considering the role of other forms of labour that silently render affective atmospheres conducive for diplomacy. Contributing to the diplomacy literature as well as understandings on aviation geopolitics, this paper unpacks the fast-paced social proceedings leading up to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council Elections at the 40th Assembly in the fall of 2019. In particular, it traces how a conspicuously “sweatless” environment was repeatedly created for state dignitaries, in order to ease their diplomatic interactions and to increase the chances of desired geopolitical outcomes for aviation. Drawing on two weeks of participant observation at the 40th Assembly and informal conversations with attendees, the paper contemplates how a state of “sweatlessness” pervaded through the organization of the summit, before looking at the role of two forms of co-present labour—liaison officers and service staff—who became the recipients of toil and anxiety instead. The paper concludes by positing that “sweat” and its metaphoric connotations can be a useful lens for opening up the relations not just between diplomats, but a wider, deeply uneven ecosystem of human actors who together produce affective atmospheres fit for critical moments in aviation geopolitics.

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