An interesting looking event being organised by Joseph De-Lappe and others:

Call for Papers

BSA Postgraduate Conference: ‘Emotional Methodologies’

19 May 2015
University of Leicester 

The conference ‘Emotional Methodologies’ will explore methods for researching emotionally-charged data and reflections on researchers’ responses to them, focusing on two themes:

• The methodological consequences of the affective turn in social science
• The move away from the idea of researcher as a detached observer towards more embedded and embodied presence

Combining presentations from established academics and contributions from postgraduate students, this multi-disciplinary event will provide a friendly and welcoming environment for postgraduates to present their research and engage in academic debate on the role emotion plays in contemporary social science research. It will also offer the opportunity to reflect on the direction emotionally-charged social science research could and should take in the future

Key Note Presentations:

Dr Kye Askins (University of Glasgow): Embedded and Emotional Observer
Dr Helen Lucey (University of Bath): Emotional dimensions of learning and teaching

Suggestions for topics include, but are not limited to:

• Emotion and place
• Engaging with emotionally charged research data
• Dealing with one’s own emotional response
• Embedded and embodied presence of the researcher
• Expected and unexpected emotions
• Challenges and/or opportunities of emotions in research
• Affect/Effect in research
• Transmission of emotions in research
• Welcoming emotions in research

We welcome applications from Masters and PhD students to present a paper.
Please send a 250 word (max) abstract and a brief biographical note before 5.00 pm on Tuesday 31st March to: Grace Sykes , Tom Grant  or Joseph De Lappe . (Papers will last 10-15 minutes).

£10 BSA Members, £25 Non-BSA Members (Conference registration fee includes lunch, refreshments and wine reception)
Travel and childcare bursaries are available, please contact the organisers above for further details

To register please book online at:

Open Panel: Quantifying Affect and Emotion, Past and Present
Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), August 20-23 2014, Buenos Aires, Argentina

In an age of “Big Data,” the enumeration of feelings has become big business. Increasingly sophisticated facial recognition algorithms, techniques of textual sentiment analysis, and sensors able to monitor gait and body language have all made emotion increasingly legible as digital code and algorithmic input.

Yet the entanglement of feelings with enumeration is not new – the tracking and quantification of emotion has been a feature of techno-scientific discourse since the early 19th century. Affect and emotion have long been subject to what historian of medicine Otniel Dror terms “discoursing in numbers”: the translation and integration of feeling into the realms of the calculable and predictable.

This open panel aims to bring together scholars working on the history of techniques and technologies for enumerating affect and emotion with those exploring contemporary digital modes of emotional tracking and quantification. The panel welcomes papers from a wide range of disciplines, particularly work that combines historical and contemporary sites of analysis. Possible panel themes and topics include, but are not limited to:

By what means have feelings been variously quantified, categorized, classified and integrated into numerical discourses throughout history?
How are contemporary practices of emotional quantification and tracking descended from or in contrast to historical examples of these techniques?
When and where have the particularities of changing scientific practice shaped technical and popular understandings of feeling, both historically and in the present?
In what ways are existing regimes of scientific knowledge around emotion being revised in view of new techno-scientific developments, and how are these epistemic shifts changing our personal understanding of emotion itself?
How are quotidian practices of daily self-tracking and the idea of the “quantified self” shaping contemporary views of feeling and affect?

Please submit a paper abstract (250 words) electronically via the conference website: Please also forward a copy of the abstract to

The deadline for submitting your abstract is February 28, 2014. Accepted authors will be notified by April 1, 2014.

For further information, please contact Luke Stark at

My last few posts on Being Human have looked at Archer’s account of the emotions. She argues that affectivity should be understood as relational, emerging as commentaries on human concerns (understood generically as bodily well-being, performative competence and social self-worth) rooted in nature, practice and sociality. In each case affectivity arises as part of our engagement in different relations: body/environment, subject/object and subject/subect. In short: our environment gives us feedback and that feedback matters to us.

However once affectivity is analytically delineated in terms of the natural, practical and social orders then an immediate questions ensues as to the emergent relations between different forms of affect. Archer argues that we “have to live and attempt to thrive in the three orders simultaneously” and that this entails we “must necessarily in some way and to some degree attend to all three clusters of commentaries” (Archer 2000: 220). However nothing guarantees that the commentaries cohere and conflict frequently arises between them:

Nothing guarantees that the three sets of first-order emotions dovetail harmoniously, and therefore it follows that the concerns to which they relate cannot all be promoted without conflict arising between them. Hence, an evasive response to the promptings of physical fear can threaten social self-worth by producing cowardly acts; cessation of an activity in response to boredom in the practical domain can threaten physical well-being; and withdrawal as a response to social shaming may entail a loss of livelihood. In other words, momentary attention to pressing commentaries may literally produce instant gratification of concerns in one order, but it is a recipe for disaster since have no alternative but to inhabit the three orders simultaneously, and none of their concerns can be bracketed-away for long. It is only on rather rare occasions that a particular commentary has semi-automatic priority – escaping a fire, undertaking a test or getting married. Most of the time, each person has to work out their own modus vivendi within the three orders. (Archer 2000: 220)

Archer’s point is not that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ but rather that it is unliveable. On this view to remain at the level of first-order affectivity is a pathological state, such as arises from addiction or trauma. This can sound like an excessively strong claim but it’s important to realise how deeply mundane the process of ‘striking a balance’ between natural, practical and social affectivity is on her view:

What it entails is striking a liveable balance within our trinity of inescapable concerns. This modus vivendi can prioritise one of the three orders of reality, as with someone who is said to ‘live for their art’, but what it cannot do is entirely to neglect the other order. Thus it is significant that enclosed congregations of religious, who are said to have renounced the world’, all had Constitutions which minutely proscribed bodily relations (food, sleep, clothing, bathing, walking, custody of the eyes etc.) and closely regulated social relations (recreation, friendships, family contact, visiting etc.). Most of us have to work it out for ourselves, and the difficulties we experience probably account for public curiosity about how prominent personalities have done it – how long does the Prime Minister sleep, how hard does the Princess work-out, or even how does the President care for his dog? We know what questions to ask because, as fellow human beings, we know the problems that have to be resolved. (Archer 2000: 221)

To this we might add the fascination with the daily routines of writers, thinkers and artists. I find sites like Daily Routines so interesting because of what they reveal about the person who has produced the work we encounter – they shed light on how the mundanities of everyday life are organised, rather than addressing authors through the often nebulous frames of history or personality. We all organise our everyday lives in a way which is so continual and quotidian that we often fail to notice it and even less frequently discuss it in any sustained way. It most frequently arises in discursive consciousness when we begin to live with others, particularly when our investments in the different orders clash e.g. arguments about keeping shared spaces clean.

However this still leaves the question of what ‘striking a balance’ entails. Archer’s answer to this distinguishes between first-order emotionality and second-order emotionality. This is something I’ll address more comprehensively in my next post about the book. More briefly though, the important notion invoked here is transvaluation. Archer’s account of second-order emotionality is heavily influenced by Charles Taylor, with the crucial caveat that she criticises his view of emotionality as a ‘moral direction finder’ in its conflation of human concerns and emotional commentaries upon them. While she accepts that “emotions are undoubtedly of moral significance because they provide the shoving power to achieve any ends at all, their goals (intensional objects) may be completely unethical” and she challenges Taylor’s ethical intuitionism (Archer 2000: 225).

There is much that can usefully be gleaned from Taylor’s discussion of transvaluation per se to contribute towards an account of the emergence of second-order emotionality. (This is particularly the cause because transvaluation paradoxically dwells upon our emotional fallibility rather than upon the intuitive acuity of emotions.) Tranvaluation entails progressive articulations of our first-order emotions,. To begin with many initial feelings may remain fairly inarticulate, such as a diffuse feeling of guilt about our relations with an elderly parent. In such cases we may seek further understanding, by interrogation of self and of circumstances, and through this the feeling may be transformed one way or another. It might dissipate upon further inspection; it may intensify as we appreciate the significance of neglect; or it could diminish if we find that to do more would be to the detriment of other duties: ‘hence we can see that our feelings incorporate a certain articulation of our situation, that is, they presuppose that we characterise our situation in certain terms. But at the same time they admit of – and very often we feel that they call for – further articulation, the elaboration of finer terms permitting more penetrating characterisation. And this further articulation can in turn transform the feeling.‘ (Archer 2000: 226) [italics are Archer quoting Taylor’s Human Agency and Language pp. 63-4).

In my last two posts on Being Human I discussed Archer’s account of emotions as commentaries on human concerns and her analysis of natural, practical and social affectivity. In this post I’ll explore her understanding of social normativity in greater detail before moving onto a discussion of the transition from first-order emotionality to second-order emotionality in a post next week.

From the realist point of view, normative conventions are not like some version of the social contract which acquires powers from its signatories, having none prior to this notional compact. Instead, such conventions and agreements are themselves culturally emergent properties (CEPs) which derive from past chains of interaction, but which, in any contemporary context, are pre-existent to, have relative autonomy from, and exercise causal efficacy over the present ‘generation’ of subjects. Individuals confront them, they do not create them, although they may transform them.” (Archer 2000: 218).

On this view social norms tend towards the production of regulative effects within society but, contra Elder-Vass, Archer cautions against conflating the ‘attempt’ with the ‘outcome’. She offers a view of well established norms “as a template which is slid across the total array of actions exhibited by members of society at a given time” which serves to “both categorise our action and attach evaluative judgements to them”. This represents certain behaviours or relationships to subjects as “being offensive, morally reprehensible and normatively unacceptable, above and beyond their legality” (Archer 2000: 218). These evaluative standards are emergent from past interaction and impinge upon present interaction, through which they are either transformed or reproduced. However the efficacy of these standards depends upon their subjective reception i.e. to exercise causal power we have to feel good if we live up to them or feel bad if we fail to meet them. Archer contrasts this to something like a traffic fine, which “operates as a simple deterrent which does not rely upon the internalisation of a normative evaluation” (Archer 2000: 218).

The punitive reactions which can be attached to a negative normative evaluation of our behaviour can certainly influence our actions but crucially it is our anticipation of the sanction which is exercising causal power rather than the normative standard as such: “for social evaluations to matter – and without mattering they are incapable of generating emotionality – they have to gel with our concerns” (Archer 2000: 219). So our evaluative capacities as deployed throughout our biography become crucial to understanding how subjects respond to the normative register they encounter at a given point in time. This is an objective phenomenon but not a homogenous one, as it emerges relationally and its reproduction or transformation is dependent upon the shifting orientations of evaluative subjects. The emergence of social affectivity requires more than a normative register and a continual stream of evaluations being passed on the comportment of fellow subjects: it requires that those norms actually be endorsed by people. This is the distinction between the power relation and a normative relation. If P1 does X and an indignant P2 does Y in response then the objective consequences of Y must be negotiated by P1 regardless of what they think of P2’s underlying motivation. However if P1 shares P2’s commitment to the underlying norm which motivates Y then the simple operation of power (the need for P1 to circumvent or otherwise negotiate the response of P2 to their action) becomes more complex, as P1 recognises themselves to have fallen short of a shared standard in their encounter with the action of P2 which has been motivated by that same standard.

As discussed in previous posts, Archer sees affectivity as arising in relation to our concerns. Environmental threats move us affectively because of our underlying concern for bodily well-being. The feedback we receive from objects in virtue of their material affordances and constraints pleases or frustrates because of our generic concern for performative achievement. In keeping with this relational view of affectivity, which sees it as emergent from the interaction between our subjective concerns and objective environment, she argues that the “most important of our social concerns is our self-worth which is vested in certain projects (career, family, community, club or church) whose success or failure we take as vindicating our worth or damaging it” (Archer 2000: 219). So the distinction here is between the normative evaluation of our discreet actions (e.g. someone finds offence in my unthinking choice of terminology while engaging in idle conversation about a topic of no great importance to me) and the normative evaluation of the projects within which we have invested ourselves (e.g. someone finds offence in how I have characterised asexual people in an journal article). For instance my own experience of the former is to either not care or find it mildly irritating or thought-provoking whereas my experience of the latter is to be deeply troubled by it.

In the first case the normative evaluation either does or does not resonate with my own evaluative dispositions but in the second case it troubles me because I’m deeply invested in the project which is receiving negatively evaluation. My prior commitment to the project serves to intensify the affect arising from someone normatively evaluating my comportment on the basis of a standard that I myself endorse (e.g. maintaining fidelity to the lived experience of research participants). Or this is what I take Archer’s argument to be at least. The notion of ‘social self-worth’ as a generic concern isn’t spelled out as clearly in Being Human as the analogous notions of physical well-being and performative achievement are. It also seems to reduce the significance of our projects into a narrowly social register in a way which obscures the complex assemblage of commitments which I can introspectively point to when reflecting on something like my own project of being a sociologist. I suspect she means something akin to a distinction between internal goods and external goods here i.e. we are driven either by the standards internal to a practice (practical affectivity) or the recognition of our achievement by others (social affectivity). But the distinction seems somewhat overdrawn if so. I’m going to think about this later when continuing with my data analysis.

In a previous post I introduced Archer’s idea of emotions as commentaries on human concerns. Her account construes emotions as relational and situated, clustering around specific human contexts: the natural order (body/environment relations), the practical order (subject/object relations) and the social order (subject/subject relations). In this post I’ll expand on the particular form of emotionality which is taken to be emergent from each of these relational orders. In the next post I’ll discuss Archer’s account of social normativity in greater detail, before moving on to the process through which first-order emotionality becomes second-order emotionality.

In the natural order emotions are “emergent from the relationship between nature’s properties and our bodily properties – this of course being a necessary relationship given the way the world is constituted, the way we are made and the fact that we have to interact ceaselessly” (Archer 2000: 201). These are “emergent from our bodily/environmental relationship in the natural order, where the standards for commentary are inscribed physiologically in our organic make-up and its capacity to feel pain and pleasure, which we, as conscious beings, having the ability to anticipate” (Archer 2000: 209). It’s in this sense that we need to see the emergence of affect as intrinsically relational: “it is from the interaction between environmental circumstances and embodied concerns that, because we are conscious beings, we can anticipate their conjunction and supply this to ourselves as an emotional commentary” (Archer 2000: 204). The affectivity which arises from this anticipation becomes possible because of the capacity of the body to ‘remember’ pleasures and pains: “we know what the bodily consequences of fire or icy water will be, and somatically this is projected as fear: if we did not anticipate it there would be nothing other than the pain of the event” (Archer 2000: 202). Our physical concerns are laid down in our constitution as organisms (as true of human animals as non-human animals) and it is our anticipatory orientation towards environmental stimuli combined with these underlying concerns which produces affect in the natural order. Natural affectivity “functions to modify the relation between body and environment”, manifesting as the body “removes itself and severs contact or prepares itself and inspects, establishes or even abandons itself to closer contact” (Archer 2000: 204-205). In this sense we can talk of natural affectivity as producing emergent action tendencies (in a way which is not the case for affectivity in the practical and social orders). With natural affectivity there is “both urgency and emergency attached to protecting our bodies from their liabilities or granting them exercise of their enablements in desire fulfilment” (Archer 2000: 207-208). However this urgency which characterises natural affect does not imply either its infallibility, functionality or uncontrollability. We often get things wrong, in the straight-forwardly cognitive sense of diagnosing things as environmental threats to our bodily well-being which simply aren’t (e.g. fear of mice or spiders). Furthermore the intensity of particular affective responses can mean we misdiagnose or otherwise fail to recognise certain environmental characteristics because of our preoccupation with one underlying element.

In the practical order there is “no sense in which our concerns are laid down biologically under those two  mentors, physical pleasure and pain” as was the case in the natural order (Archer 2000: 209). However Archer argues that confrontation with the practical order is no more optional than confrontation with the natural order where “we are dealing with those emotions emergent from people’s necessary labour, from performative relations, from practical imitation and curiosity, from involvement in all doings which entail material culture, and this includes those of the spectator” (Archer 2000: 210). In this domain performative achievement is the generic concern underpinning practical affectivity. Archer’s argument is that the emotional commentary “is what emerges between the subject and in its relationship with the object; it is, as it were, the object’s judgement of competence or incompetence upon the subject’s dealings with it” (Archer 2000: 210). It is of course the subject who passes the judgement but they do so on the basis of an objective performance. We frequently err or misconstrue this feedback but we do so in relation to an objective standard. What Archer is invoking here is the material affordances and liabilities entailed by the material constitution of the object. Positive or negative feedback emerges from the relation between these affordances and our embodied engagement with them. This embodied aspect can be seen in the “enhanced attention, readiness and self-control which is manifestly associated with delicate tasks” as when “tongues protrude when threading a needle; children sub-vocalise on their first maths problems; and only the exceedingly well practiced can open a champagne bottle without holding it at arm’s length and grimacing in anticipation” (Archer 2000: 211). Practical affectivity in turn emerges from the relation between this feedback and our generic concern for performative achievement: “if we consistently fall short on a particular task, meaning that we cannot match up to objective standards of performative achievement, then frustration, boredom and depression ensue as emotional commentaries, leading ceteris paribus to its abandonment”. Alternatively, if we “perform well in relation to a challenging task, ‘catching on’ quickly, then the feelings of satisfaction, joy or even euphoria, themselves encourage further activity for the enhancement of competence”. This can be profoundly motivating and is “what gets the competitive swimmer up at four in the morning for training and keeps the musician to hours of daily practice”, “it is what sets the green fingered’ at their winter gardening tasks, gets knitted garments finished and keeps people sitting under green umbrellas on river banks”  (Archer 2000: 212-213).

In the social order we respond to the “judgements of approbation/disapproval that are rooted in social norms and which have an impact upon the social subject”. This is the equivalent to the “environmental threat or benefit in relation to the body in the natural order, and the task’s ease or difficulty in relation to the undertaker in the practical order” (Archer 2000: 215). Archer sees social affectivity as socially constituted rather than socially constructed and dependent for its emergence upon “our subject status in society, the receipt of moral evaluations from the social order, and the conjunction between our personal concerns and the nature of society’s norms” (Archer 2000: 215). What sharply differentiates the feedback received in the social order (moral judgement) from that received in the practical order (affordance or resistance) and natural order (damaging or benign to our bodies) is the minimal mediation of subjectivity involved in the latter two. We can and frequently do misconstrue the feedback we receive in the natural order and practical order but it arises from situations which “were as they were independently of human evaluations of them: something did not become less menacing or testing because we subjectively viewed it as such” (Archer 2000: 216). In contrast social affectivity depends upon our subjectively acknowledging a particular situation as such. This is the problem with accounts of normativity such as that offered by Dave Elder-Vass: it fails to distinguish between ‘endorsement’ and ‘enforcement’. It is obviously the case that “societies can sanction unwanted behaviour, but without any concordance, all the individual feels is the punishment not the shame …. they may of course feel shame at being punished but this does not entail being ashamed of the action which precipitated it” (Archer 2000: 216).