emotion, sociology of

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emotion, sociology of Although a concern with emotion is present in much early sociology (for example in the work of C. H. Cooley), the sociological study of emotions emerged as a distinctive subfield within the discipline only during the 1970s, in part at least as a self-conscious response to a sociology that (in the eyes of some) had become overly concerned with the cognitive and rational. It examines such emotions as shame and pride, love and hate, awe and wonder, boredom and melancholy, and asks questions about how these are culturally patterned, experienced, acquired, transformed, managed in daily life, and legitimated through accounts. At its most general, then, the specialism examines the links between feelings, on the one hand, and cultures, structures, and interactions (see ACTION THEORY) on the other.

Three models of analysis are common. The first (or organismic) suggests that feelings happen within the person, are experienced bodily, and then interpreted. The second or constructionist position maintains that feelings are socially constructed, and that they do not apply to internal states but are in fact cultural meanings given to sensations, since the same sensation may be given very different meanings. (Pain, love, and anger, for example, are not universals, but are given different meanings in different cultures, and are often experienced differently.) The final position is that of the interactionist who interprets feelings as an emergent property of the interaction between environment and body.

Two pioneering works in this field illustrate the sorts of research that will be found here. Arlie Hochschild's The Managed Heart (1983) is a study of airline stewardesses in the United States, which highlights the ways in which those who practise this particular occupation sell emotions (it is emotional labour), and are guided by feeling rules. Thomas Scheff suggests that ‘shame is the primary social emotion’, and in his work examines both the ubiquity of this emotion, and the ‘spiral of shame and rage’ often generated by it in social interaction (see especially Microsociology 1990
). The current terrain and topics of interest are clearly mapped in T. Kemper ( ed.) , Research Agendas in the Sociology of Emotions (1990)