The Politics of a Smile


In this article, I explore the smile as regulatory mechanism installed in the face to organise a subject’s responses to neo-imperial/biopolitical capitalist governmentality. I begin by situating my reading with respect to Sara Ahmed’s and Lauren Berlant’s work on affective labour before turning to German philosopher Helmuth Plessner (1892-1985) in order to consider the smile as theory of sovereignty. I propose that these two meanings or deployments of the smile – as (1) act that demonstrates forced enslavement to capitalist culture and (2) as articulation of the sovereign self/state – converge in their joint purpose, which is the elimination of sociality and solidarity. My article thereby contributes to recent scholarship on the face, in particular its function in affective/service labour, which it supplements by drawing on Plessner’s work: at stake is not only the worker’s subjection to capital but also to a regime obsessed with securing borders.