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emotions in Cultural Studies: emotions can and must be thought of as collective, as well as individual, phenomena

February 20, 2013

I found this article really quite thought-provoking… Jennifer Harding & E. Deidre Pribram argue that:

Emotions have tended to be ignored or denigrated within Western philosophical and scientific traditions. This academic stance has been matched by a frequent, widespread cultural contempt for emotions in which they have [-p.864] been viewed as infantile and uncivilized things that must be controlled in order for society to operate smoothly and rationally (Planalp 1999). Academic investigation of the emotions has taken place principally within a biomedical framework and the ‘psy disciplines’, psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis (Lupton 1998), in which they have been seen as individual, internal, inherent and private states. These disciplines have also provided a framework through which emotional responses have been surveyed, assessed and subjected to a range of practices directed at management and control. More recently, however, there has been a growth of interest in the emotions from within the humanities and social sciences and a focus on emotions as sociocultural products.” (pp.863-864)

“A focus on emotions as sociocultural phenomena seems to have developed in parallel with a growing twentieth century fascination with, and discovery of, ‘the emotional self’’ – involving an intensification of discourses and expert knowledges centred around emotional expression and intimacy (Lupton 1998, p. 6). Yet, within cultural studies, there has been little detailed investigation of emotions as part of everyday personal, cultural and political life. Nor has there been serious consideration of the ways in which emotions may be part of knowledge production, largely due to the widely held assumption that valid knowledge results from the exercise of reason that must be opposed to and properly insulated from emotion. This, we argue, represents a major deficit in academic inquiry. Significantly, a cultural studies analysis of emotions is capable of revealing a great deal about how emotions might operate in the reproduction of subjectivity, culture and power relations. Such analysis would show how emotions can and must be thought of as collective, as well as individual, phenomena. A cultural studies approach can also be used to untangle the complex and intricate ways in which emotions may be deeply insinuated in and contribute to the production of knowledge. [/] In this paper, we argue for analyses of the place of emotions in the production of knowledge, culture, individual and collective identities, and power relations. We discuss the conceptual tools necessary to do this from a cultural studies perspective.” (p.864)

Harding and Pribram explain further: “Since the Enlightenment, western societies and western knowledge production have been characterized by an emphasis on and privileging of reason and rationality, necessarily defined in relation to (the subordinated category of) the irrational. The rational has been associated with the intellectual, the cultural, the universal, the public, and the male. The irrational has been associated with the physical, the natural, the particular, the private, and the female (Jaggar 1989). Since emotions have been conflated with the irrational, they have been perceived as antipathetical to conventional knowledge production and have been used to support the hegemonic position of rationality and its associated categories. In contrast, we argue that emotions have played a significant role in social, political, and epistemological configurations of modernity. Indeed, knowledge production cannot be detached from emotion production, and emotional experience can be seen as a creative and insightful route to knowledge.

Emotions are widely perceived to be largely individual rather than social phenomena while ‘the social’ and social institutions are generally understood to be rationally based. Exceptions to this, like ‘mass hysteria’, are seen as examples of aberrant behaviour.  Social entities at national, governmental, and corporate levels of operation are presumed not to act emotionally, but, rather, are assumed to function systematically from principles of rationality. However, emotions are seen to operate at the level of the social with regard to (and constituting) certain specific social groupings, for instance women, people of color, and working class people. Discourses on the emotions function ideologically to define and subordinate specific social groups, constituting who they are, by associating them with emotions. Political minorities are often perceived as entire categories that act/react from emotion, with farreaching consequences. For instance, people of colour and women have been viewed as more subjective, biased, and irrational while at the same time, in an ideology confirming and self-defining practice, they may be culturally required to express emotions more openly.” (p.865)

How does such theory relate to children? and to child readers? and adolescents – and adolescent readers…?

How does it relate to fans of certain genres? (like Romance, for example)?

Ref: Jennifer Harding & E. Deidre Pribram (2004): Losing our cool? Following Williams and Grossberg on emotions  Cultural Studies, 18:6, 863-883

ABSTRACT: “Despite constituting a significant area of everyday experience, emotions have rarely been the focus of detailed investigation within cultural studies. This paper makes a case for viewing emotions as social/cultural/political, as well as individual, phenomena and reviews the contributions of cultural theorists to analyses of emotions. To this end, it critically examines Raymond Williams’ concept ‘structure of feeling’, which reintroduces the subjective into the social, and Larry Grossberg’s concept ‘economy of affect’, which seeks to explain how, through affective investments, ideologies are internalized and naturalized. Whilst both theorists provide important conceptual tools, each conceptualization has specific limitations and neither theorist offers detailed analyses of the interrelations, in practice, between individual and social aspects of emotion. The authors seek to build on and extend the insights of Williams and Grossberg and locate emotions in and across specific historical, cultural and political contexts within relations of hegemony and resistance. The authors begin to theorize how emotions are constituted and operate interactively at the level of both individual personal experience and wider social formations/power relations. This paper establishes the groundwork for working towards a genealogy of specific structures of feeling and specific emotional subjects. It is argued that theorizing relations between emotion and power is crucial to this project. The paper discusses ways of theorizing ‘emotion and power’, and outlines the authors’ approach, which, it is suggested, could be further explored in relation to concrete examples.” (p.863)

Reference is to: Jaggar, A. (1989) ‘Love and knowledge: emotion in feminist epistemology’, in Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing, eds A. M. Jaggar and S. R. Bordo, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
Lupton, D. (1998) The Emotional Self. A Sociocultural Exploration, Sage, London.
Planalp, S. (1999) Communicating Emotion. Social, Moral and Cultural Processes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


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