Seizing the emotional infrastructure of the State – lessons to be learned from Portuguese colonial psi-ops (c. 1961)
2022-06-30, 14:30
Centre for Social Studies
João Figueiredo, Sara Araújo

Scholars of the Portuguese empire often claim that Portuguese elites used myths and popular narratives to justify the expansion and maintenance of their Empire. Focusing primarily on nineteenth-century parliamentary debates, Valentim Alexandre argues that politicians successfully mobilized the myths of a ‘New Brazil’ or ‘Eldorado’ in Africa and the myth of ‘The Sacred Inheritance’ to rally support for their colonial policies. Focusing on the print culture that circulated during the same period, Beatrix Heintze and Isabel Castro Henriques argue that dehumanizing myths about African ‘Others’ often enabled imperial aggressions. Finally, ever since Cláudia Castelo deconstructed ‘Lusotropicalism,’ a great number of scholars have written about the real or imaginary impacts of this late-colonial myth (c. 1961-62). In this paper, I will question the utility of all these arguments in furthering our understanding of contemporary populism. Basing myself on Frédéric Lordon’s Imperium: Structures and Affects of Political Bodies (2022), I will argue that to understand the mechanics behind populist use of Portuguese colonial heritage we should be paying attention to the emotional infrastructures of the State, and not to the ‘truth’ content of these myths. As Lordon makes clear, this shift in perspective hinges on the adoption of a ‘critical anthropological realism’ that allows us to grasp how common affects coalesce and are then institutionally captured. I will further argue that the Portuguese Army adopted such an anthropological-realist approach when the colonial-Liberation wars erupted in the 1960s. This can be grasped by engaging with the psychological actions (psi-ops) manuals of the period.