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Emotions are…

May 16, 2013

In making sense of the concept of ’emotion’ (while arguing for his interpretation of loyalty as an emotion), James Connor writes:

“According to Barbalet (1992: 150), emotions are ‘psychophysiological phenomena of micro-sociological or social psychological concern’. This means that emotion, for the actor, is an artifact that registers in their dispositional being by changing their body’s feelings, reactions and interpretations. This physiological aspect manifests in fluttering stomachs, dry mouths and flight to name just a few physical responses. But it is also a mental response, as emotion can change the disposition of the actor. Barbalet (2003: 1) explains this idea at length: [a] person may be negatively or positively involved with something, profoundly involved or only slightly involved, but however or to what degree they are involved with an event, condition or person it necessarily matters to them, proportionately. That it matters, that a person cares about something, registers in their physical and dispositional being.

“This dispositional shift can change the way an actor thinks, expresses and articulates the story of, and ideas about, a given event. Thus, emotion is central to all social processes as it guides action. My case studies have demonstrated the centrality of loyalty to action. Barbalet (1992: 151) summarises this point neatly: ‘emotion is central to social processes not only in being central to identity and affiliation but also in being the necessary basis of social action and the form it takes’.

“Loyalty fits into Barbalet’s emotion typology. Loyalty is a psychophysiological phenomenon in that it has attendant physical manifestations when it is called upon. Consider the physical responses that can be felt when loyalty is called into question. Depending upon the power differential, the actor may feel all the manifestations normally attributed to fear and flight or fight responses. These responses, while on the surface appear to be fear, are much more complex in the origin of the physical manifestation. It is the loyalty relationship—the rights, responsibilities and obligations that are being called into question when the issue of disloyalty is raised that triggers the physical manifestations. Dispositionally, the actor cares about the event. It matters on both the individual micro-sociological level and the macro-social level. The case studies showed that the actor can be worried about their own continued health, in the extreme cases of disloyalty, and the social impact that this event may have. Barbelet (1992:160) acknowledges this dual aspect to emotion by stating that emotion ‘is always situated and therefore has a context . . . . Each of these elements of emotion – the contextual and the experiential – is necessary in any adequate conceptualisation of emotion’. One of the key strengths of this definition is that it incorporates the body (the experiential), but still posits emotion within the social.” (p.135)

“It is […] the everyday common usage of terminology that most people classify as emotion or emotive terms that are our actual emotions. It does not require ‘scientific’ measurement of bodily arousal or changes in the endocrine system but, instead, an analysis of the social representations and actions of emotion in general parlance and thought. Fehr and Russell (1984: 469) found that when subjects were asked to list the emotions, they came up with a wide and varied list of terms.” (p.136)

“Another means of conceptualising emotion is to define it functionally. Planalp (1999: 161) offers the view that ‘emotion orients us to the good and to the should: to things that we value and to things that we feel we ought to do’ (emphasis in original). Thus, emotion orients us to what is going on in the world and alerts us to act or not act depending upon the stimuli and the emotional response it engenders.” (p.136)

“Solomon (2002) provides yet another means of conceptualising the slippery concept of emotion. He points out that ‘every emotion can be viewed from a different perspectives and has different aspects’ (2002: 131, emphasis in original). Solomon points out that every emotion has five aspects:
(1) behavioural expressions (including elaborate plans for action and verbal behaviour), (2) physiological (hormonal, neurological, neuro-muscular), (3) phenomenological (sensations, ways of construing the objects of emotion), (4) cognitive (appraisals, perceptions, thoughts, and reflections about one’s emotions), and (5) the social context (the immediacy of interpersonal inter-actions, pervasive cultural considerations). (2002: 131–2, emphasis in original)
These should not be considered as a component, or combination theory of emotion. As Solomon (2002: 132) points out in his defence: ‘[t]hese aspects are often interwoven and they should not be construed (as they often are) as competing conceptions of emotion’. Thus Solomon is proposing a holistic theory of emotion.” (p.137)

Averill offers yet another definition of emotion: ‘emotions are responses that have been institutionalized by society as a means of resolving conflicts which exist within the social system’ and ‘ . . . emotions are social constructions. That is, they are fashioned, organized, brought about – in short, constructed – according to rules of culture’ (Averill, 1980: 35, 43, emphasis in original).” (p.141)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) James Connor (2007) The sociology of loyalty. New York: Springer Verlag

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