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  • Mark 11:32 am on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , emotions,   

    CfP ‘Emotional Methodologies’ BSA Postgraduate Conference 

    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 gs210@le.ac.uk , Tom Grant tag10@le.ac.uk  or Joseph De Lappe joseph.de-lappe@open.ac.uk . (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: http://portal.britsoc.co.uk/member/event/eventBooking.aspx?id=EVT10414

    • Martha K Huggins 8:43 pm on February 13, 2015 Permalink

      Hope you will consult our book, Women
      Fielding Danger (Martha K Huggins and Marie Louise Glebbeek). It has wonderful articles from women from several disciplines that demonstrate your topic and how emotions in research was managed in-situ. Martha

  • Mark 3:32 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: emotions, ,   

    The cultural representation of our inner life 

    • Janet 3:48 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink

      Thanks for this Mark, I’m going to pinch it to use with my PGCE students in a session on inner conversations. Brilliant!

    • Mark 3:48 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink

      If you find any more like this, let me know!

    • Janet 5:47 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink


  • Mark 9:34 am on August 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , emotions,   

    Being Human and Transvaluation (part 1) 

    In the previous few posts on Being Human, part of a broader project to blog thematic overviews of all Margaret Archer’s major books, I’ve been looking at her account of the emotions. This is absolutely integral to her understanding of reflexivity, it’s covered in less depth in the reflexivity books and, unless it’s understood, it’s easy to get the impression that she has a rationalistic view of human agency. Whereas in actuality she has a rather subtle understanding of deliberation as being underwritten by (and also responding to) a complex  structure of affectivity which arises from the emergent relations between our own constitution (bodily, cognitively, socially) and the constitution of the world (natural, practical and social). The previous posts have looked at her understanding of emotions as commentaries on human concerns, the different forms of affectivity and their embedding within everyday life. In this post I’ll discuss the notion of transvaluation and Archer’s account of personal identity as arising through the reflexive transmutation of first-order emotionality into second-order emotionality.

    So far, three clusters of emotions have been discussed as emergent commentaries, relating to our physical well-being, performative achievement and self-worth in the natural, practical and discursive orders respectively. Matters do not end there with a series of immutable first-order emotions, ranked as it were, simply by their relative intensity. They do not because of our human powers of reflexivity; our capacity to reflect upon our emotionality itself, to transform it and consequentially to re-order priorities without our emotional sets. That there is some second-ordering process involved commands broad agreement. (Archer 2000: 222)

    As is often the case with her style of argument, Archer chooses two contrasting perspectives on an underlying question which she critiques and uses to develop her own account. The first view is one which sees second-order emotionality “as a matter of cognitive reflection in which reason is brought to bear upon the beliefs underpinning first-order emotions, whose revision then leads to emotional re-direction (second-order)” (Archer 2000: 222). On this account reason is the arbiter of emotion, reflecting on our first-order reactions and ‘weeding out’ those which have insufficient basis to justify survival into the second-order. The second view is one of evaluative reflection in which the “subject asks, if emotions are affective commentaries upon our situations, which of these have the greatest import for our greatest concerns?”. Instead of “trying to rationalise our first-order emotions, we evaluate them as guides to the life we wish to lead, and thus end up embracing some and subordinating others” in a process which is not the “rational optimisation in which the desired life is selected according to reason and then emotions are assessed for their goodness of fit” but rather one in which “pathos and logos work hand in hand at the second-order level” (Archer 2000: 233). The second view is that adopted by Charles Taylor and, by way of a sympathetic critique, Archer adopts his terminology of ‘transvaluation’ while nonetheless distancing her own account from his:

    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).

    What I find so compelling about this view is its nuanced relationship to language. On this account “the movement from first-order to second-order emotionality entails a shift from the inarticulate to the articulate, from the less adequate to the more adequate characterisation and from initial evaluation to transvaluation” (Archer 2000: 227). It’s something I’ve used to make sense of the experience of people who identify as asexual who, prior to coming to encounter the notion of asexuality, are struggling to articulate something about themselves and finding that the articulatory repertoires currently available to them are entirely inadequate. It’s this sense of what someone is trying to say which is, I think, a profound aspect of the human condition. Both because of its ineffable core of first-person experience (that exceeds what we are able to say to ourselves in inner speech, let alone to external others through external speech) but also because the attempt itself frequently changes us: 

    The very act of offering oneself a second-order articulation serves to ‘open up the question whether this characterisation is adequate, whether it is not incomplete or distortive. And so from the very fact of their being articulate, the question cannot but arise whether we have properly articulated our feelings, that is whether we have properly explicated what the feeling gives us a sense of.’ Second-order revision can thus be indefinitely elaborated as we analyse further our understanding of imports and discard previous interpretations, both of which are transformative movements in this process. From feeling rejected by our teenage children’s obvious preference for the company of their peers, we can reflect upon the restrictiveness of our own dependence and then take pleasure in their new independence, new things to talk about and new social skills. (Archer 2000: 227)

    For those familiar with the notion of a morphogenetic sequence: first-order emotionality is the T1, internal conversation is the T2-T3 and second-order emotionality is the T4. These cycles are seen to be a continual and overlapping feature of our embodied human being-in-the-world but ones which can, nonetheless, be analysed through isolation their prior conditions, interaction and ensuing elaboration. It’s just that unlike the other morphogenetic sequences Archer has been concerned with, these are intra-personal (with the partial exception of communicative reflexivity).  In part 2 of this post I’ll explore the intra-personal interaction in more detail and then move onto transvaluation (in a substantive sense) and Archer’s account of personal identity.

  • Mark 9:23 am on August 23, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , emotions, , Social Normativity,   

    Being Human and Social Normativity 

    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.

    • Tom Brock 3:18 pm on August 23, 2013 Permalink


      It is clear to me from this that individual reflexivity is the process through which a normative relation becomes a power relation – if I’m right on this interpretation then I’ve think you’ve nailed the point I was trying to make about how hegemonic acts (as co-optation). I don’t think EV has distinguished, in such clear terms, what a normative relation is and what a power relation is (in a context such as this). I think this was the aim of his next book on power.

      I’m totally onboard with the idea that individual reflexivity is the process through which a norm can become affective. Fleshing it out in this way allows us to see represent resistance as a very personal process – one where personal projects are *felt*. I suppose one point of discussion, then, is whether social norms can still have a regulatory effect on us even if we consider them in an affectively neutral way. Why problematise something that doesn’t bother us? I think to maintain a sound realist position there needs to be some space where social norms can objectively reside, otherwise, don’t we fall into the trap of that which is effective is only affective? Is it capitalist exploitation if the norm – of working to exchange labour for money – is not considered exploitative by the call-centre worker? I think this actually provokes quite a provocative idea – may social norms can be considered the unintended consequences of our (collective) affective neutrality – a latticework of “stuff” that needs to be problematised but will, inevitably, lead to more “stuff”. This is just a musing though – the idea of turning normativity on its head is something that has appealed to me every since writing on morals.

      But yes, I think this is a serious challenge to DEV. As I see it, you’ve broken down the distinction between endorsing and enforcing a norm by expanding on the difference between normativity and power. I’m not convinced this has invalidated the idea of objective normative environments but I do think that when we talk about norm circles we need to be thinking less in terms of actuality – one group per norm – and more in terms of normality as something that we act towards as an imagined construct (biographically framed), but whose actions have real, often unintended, consequences.

    • Mark 1:01 pm on August 24, 2013 Permalink

      “if I’m right on this interpretation then I’ve think you’ve nailed the point I was trying to make about how hegemonic acts (as co-optation)”

      and I think you’ve nailed my discomfort about hegemony which I’ve struggled to articulate. it negates the value rationality involved in someone coming to endorse a norm and assimilates it to the power relation.

      “I’m not convinced this has invalidated the idea of objective normative environments”

      nope, it’s just making a claim about how they are reproduced or transformed. norm circles invoke subjectivity to either (a) reflexivity adjudicate between competing normative demands (b) explain the ‘encoding’ of normative pressures into the constitution of subjects. on this view, normativity always a subjective moment involving endorsement, neturality or opposition towards values.

      “I suppose one point of discussion, then, is whether social norms can still have a regulatory effect on us even if we consider them in an affectively neutral way. Why problematise something that doesn’t bother us?”

      We wouldn’t – this is helping me finally get a theoretical grip on why, assuming people who don’t experience sexual attraction didn’t magically pop into existence in the early 2000s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that an asexual community began to emerge. the internet was a necessary but insufficient condition – i’ve argued (speculatively) that the underlying ‘condition’ was rendered socially problematic until fairly recently (e.g. it’s only when sex becomes a topic of everyday conversation that not experiencing sexual attraction becomes even remotely visible) so perhaps by ‘the sexual assumption’ all i mean is a new norm. or a presupposition underlying a whole array of new norms? perhaps it’s the presuppositions underlying diverse norms which we could talk of as being ‘hegemonic’? so for instance capitalist hegemony could be construed as the underlying presuppositions encoded within a whole range of diverse and sometimes conflictual norms and politics and economy?

    • Tom Brock 10:42 am on August 26, 2013 Permalink

      “and I think you’ve nailed my discomfort about hegemony which I’ve struggled to articulate. it negates the value rationality involved in someone coming to endorse a norm and assimilates it to the power relation.”

      I think you are onto something with the Gramscian conception of hegemony – Hegemony as the state material-ideational construct has conflated endorsement and enforcement. I can see why you’d want to separate these out in a more nuanced approach to normativity and power. Hegemony assimilates the norm into a power relation as endorsement and endorsement become the ‘matrix’ through which those with a particular – privileged – material-ideational base can operate from. As I see it, hegemony (small ‘h’) is a kind of power relation that operates under positionality, but also under geo-spatial/temporal location and under particular socio-cultural conditions. This power relation is intended – as a form of co-optation – that I think is more complete that the notion of censure (that we’ve discussed previously). Co-optation, as I see it, is an appeal to another persons worldview, in a way that censure is not. Co-optation is about getting another person to see and consent (at least in their actions) to your worldview. This might sound like splitting hairs but I think hegemony as co-optation is about getting people to see their world on your terms and acting (at least in front of you) as if they consent into your way of thinking. I actually think that is from here that dialectical contradictions arise (as we janus-face between inner and outer self but also between conflicts within intra-psychical self).

      “normativity always a subjective moment involving endorsement, neturality or opposition towards values.”

      I think even DEV is clear on the internal and external moments of subjectivity. He is just more concerned (however wrongly) with the external moments of intentional acts. The problem is that this isn’t where a ‘bottom-up’ approach to the social world needs to start from. Bhaskar would argue that it needs to start at motives in a 7-scalar social being and this is where I think me and you agree.

      “so perhaps by ‘the sexual assumption’ all i mean is a new norm. or a presupposition underlying a whole array of new norms? perhaps it’s the presuppositions underlying diverse norms which we could talk of as being ‘hegemonic’? ”

      I think there are two types of ‘H(h)egemony’ and one could be the material-ideational construct which conflates endorsement with enforcement through the emergent properties, e.g. laws, of intersecting collective macro actors. This is not the hegemony of power relations of which I was trying to point out before but, rather, something actually built into the archive of knowledge itself – made consistent (or is itself consistent) and reproduced over time. (h)egemony as a power relation is something much more intimate, reflexive and affective.

    • Mark 11:10 am on August 26, 2013 Permalink

      i don’t know – i keep veering between seeing where you’re coming from and thinking that the concept of hegemony is intrinsically conflationary….

  • Mark 11:49 am on August 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , emotions, natural order, , ,   

    Being Human: Natural, practical and social affectivity 

    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).

  • Mark 9:46 am on August 17, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: emotions,   

    Emotions as commentaries on human concerns 

    In Being Human Archer argues for a view of human beings as having a “rich inner life” which is partly constituted through our engagement in a “continual running commentary with the events going on around us” (Archer 2000: 193). For instance, as I sat down to write this post I quickly looked at the clock on my Mac and noted that I have to leave the house in two hours to catch a train and there are other things I have to do before I leave. Commentaries of this sort are so emphatically quotidian that they often find themselves ignored by theorists and sociologists. They’re so mundane and everyday that it’s easy to forget about them. Likewise we don’t always listen (note the audial rather than ocular metaphor) to these internal commentaries. If we did then there would be no purpose to the practice of mindfulness which, I’d argue, hinges on cultivating an attentiveness to our own internal conversations qua mental events and how they are in turn shaped by our reactions to those mental events.

    These commentaries are often ‘part of the action’. It’s easy to misread Archer on this point but her assertion of the “relative autonomy, temporal priority and causal efficacy” of internal conversation is intended to establish how our mental events can have causal implications in the physical world, avoiding their reduction to either physical processes or social processes. Archer sees them as a continual part of our being-in-the-world:

    Sometimes we would like to turn it off and to confront life directly without the accompaniment of this cynical, prudential, censorious, apprehensive, assertive, smarting and forbearing inner commentator, who is all of these things. Yet even when we come closest to doing so, when we are fully absorbed in action, the commentary only becomes discontinuous but does not disappear: the mountaineer interrogates and instructs herself on hand-holds, the lover internally begs that this may not stop, and the lazing holiday-maker or the jump-jockey, in their different ways, think ‘this is the life’.

    Since this experience is so universal and continuous to human beings, and also one of which they are acutely if not infallibly aware, one wonders why it has suffered such considerable neglect within sociology. Because it is part of the action (obviously including interaction), it can not be relegated to the domain of personal psychology as if separate from sociological concerns. (Archer 2000: 193-194)

    Our emotions are one of the central elements of this inner life. One of the key elements of Archer’s project over the last 15 years or so has been to “reunite human pathos with human logos and to show their inter-linkage within the internal conversation” (Archer 2000: 194). She conceptualises the emotions as a first-order and second-order phenomena:

    1. Different clusters of emotions represent commentaries upon our concerns and are emergent from our human relationship with the natural, practical and discursive orders of reality respectively. Matters do not finish here.
    2. Because of our reflexivity, we review these emotional commentaries, articulate them, monitor them, and transmute them; thus elaborating further upon our emotionality itself.
    3. This occurs through the inner conversation which is a ceaseless discussion about the satisfaction of our ultimate concerns and a monitoring of the self and its commitments in relation to the commentaries received (Archer 2000: 195)

    On this view emotions must be understood relationally. They are, as Charles Taylor puts it, “affective modes of awareness of situation”. Thus they emerge in relation to something. It is “because of their situational and relational characters” that our “emotionality is regarded as a continuous running commentary (that is something we are never without) and therefore it is only in sudden or urgent contexts that we are aware of a specific emotion” (Archer 2000: 197). Archer understands these emotions in terms of clusters:

    Thus, there is no need to compile complex lists of named emotions and accommodate them on this account, for, as Greenwood argues, there is no necessary correlation between the richness of emotional experience and the existence of an equivalent subtlety of available linguistic labels in any given culture.

    Instead, in dealing with the emergence and progressive elaboration of (first-order) emotions, the task will be to delineate clusters of emotions whose emergence is rooted in the different orders of reality – the natural, practical and discursive. in other words, distinct tracts of our emotionality are internally linked to equally distinct kinds of real world objects, whose three different kinds of imports register themselves as commentaries on three correspondingly different kinds of concerns. Prototypical examples can and will be given of each cluster, but is not part of the aim here to accommodate the four hundred or so emotions discriminated in the English language to the three clusters, because of the naive nominalism which would be entailed. Since synonyms can proliferate and the narcissism of small differences may flourish, we should be duly cautious in assuming that each appellation connotes a different experience, just as we should beware of thinking that the absence of a name in certain cultures implies a corresponding absence of a feeling. (Archer 2000: 197)

    This clustering takes the form it does because of the relational nature of our emotions i.e. they emerge within particular types of situations. Archer understands three types of situation encompassing three sets of relations:

    • The Natural Order encompasses body-environment relations (visceral emotions and concerns for physical well-being)
    • The Practical Order encompasses subject/object relations (competence-orientated emotions and concerns for performative achievement)
    • The Social Order encompasses subject/subject relations (normative emotions and concerns for social self-worth)

    Firstly, it is maintained that all persons have to confront the natural world and that their embodiment ineluctably confers on them concerns about their physical well-being as they encounter the hard-knocks, pleasures and dangers of their environments. This concern itself is embodied in our physical constitution and, although the imports of nature can be over-ridden (at the second-order), they cannot avoid being viscerally registered and resulting (indirectly, as we  will see) in the emergence of first-order emotions.

    Secondly, all persons are constrained to live and work, in one way or another, in the practical world: necessary labour is the lot of homo faber. Performative concerns are unavoidably part of our inevitable practical engagement with the world of material culture. The precise objects of performative concerns are historically, cross-culturally and socially varied, but the import of our competence in dealing with the practical realm is universal. In other words, the annoyance of primitive man about breaking a good spear belongs to the same emotional family as the feelings of the playboy of the western world when he prangs his best Lamborghini. The import of the situation is to the subject and has nothing to with where our sympathies may lie as hypothetical observers.

    Thirdly, sociality is also necessarily the lot of human beings, who would be less than what we understand by human without their social engagements. Participation in the social realm entails concerns about self-worth which cannot be evaded in this discursive environment. We cannot avoid becoming a subject among subjects and with it come ‘subject-referring properties’ (such as admirable or shameful) which convey the import of normativity to our concerns about our social standing. These may be very different concerns since we can choose (second-order) to stand in very different places (our self-worth is crucially dependent upon the nature of our commitments), but these of course are all equally social and cannot obviate the (first-order) impact of social norms which inflict evaluations on our comportment. (Archer 2000: 198-199)

    • Janet 8:19 pm on December 2, 2013 Permalink

      Thanks, very useful and clear blog!

  • Mark 3:50 pm on July 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: emotions, ,   

    Emotions and Reflexivity 

    Archer’s account has recently been subject to criticism for allegedly marginalising the role of emotion in reflexivity (Burkitt 2012, Holmes 2010). Though largely stemming from reading her recent work in isolation, such that the elaborate account of the emotions given in Archer (2000) is ignored, the form the critique takes raises some pertinent issues. Burkitt wishes to avoid an approach which “sees emotion as just another factor to be drawn into the reflexive process, where it can be effectively monitored and managed”. Instead emotion should be construed as a “motivating factor to reflexivity, colouring and infusing reflexivity itself” and as “woven into the fabric of the interactions we are engaged in and it is therefore also central to the way we relate to ourselves as well as to others” (Burkitt 2012: 459). Though he recognises, unlike others such as Atkinson (2010), the profound differences between Archer’s account and that of Giddens et al, he nonetheless holds that the former has a ‘rationalist’ and ‘individualistic’ hue resulting, it is argued, from understanding emotions as a “subjective commentary on our own concerns”.

    Burkitt’s objection seems to be that grounding emotions in the ontology of the person, such that our emotional reactions are shaped by what has come to matter to us over time, obliterates the relational dimensions to our emotional lives. He writes that “How others judge and value us seems to play no role at all in emotional responses, or if it does it would only be because someone else’s judgements of us chimes with our own subjective one” (Burkitt 2012: 463). The former claim is simply disingenuous, even assuming that Burkitt’s critique of an approach articulated across a number of volumes proceeds solely from a (seemingly far from thorough) reading of one of them. The latter claim though is more interesting. The obvious retort is this: we will only respond emotionally to the judgements of others if we care about what they think of us and/or we care about not being judged to be X.

    In its own terms, this claim seems innocuous, even tautological i.e. we only care about things if we care about them. The real basis of the objection seems to be what this affirmation of the ontologically subjective dimension to emotional response seems to imply about the source of our concerns. Burkitt (2012) accuses Archer of rationalism, asking “surely, how we develop our concerns is not disconnected from our emotional connection, identification and dis-identification with caregivers, friends, teachers, the wide generation and society?”. His assumption seems to be that if our concern are relatively autonomous from the webs of relationships within which we are entwined, such as is necessary for the former to shape our emotional reactions to the latter, then our concerns must be those of a “reflexive agent that floats free of all commitments, except for those that are self-chosen” (Burkitt 2012: 463). Ironically given his accusation of rationalism, Burkitt’s own critique reveals an oddly rationalistic premise he himself would explicitly reject i.e. unless commitments result from social influence they must arise from the free choices of a rational subject.

    This seemingly unlikely assumption arises from a failure to conceptualise emotional life in properly temporal terms. It ignores the temporal sequencing of our concerns, the situations we confront and our emotional responses to these situations in terms of our concerns. Our concerns predate, even if minutely, any particular situation we encounter: while we always have concerns and are always situated, it is nonetheless the case that we bring a set of concerns, shaped by past experience, to each new situation we encounter which retains some prior existence vis-a-vis that situation. Similarly our emotional responses to that situation, in light of those concerns, is not immediate: even in what seem to be situations that are transparant in the meaning they hold, we must still respond to them. Unless we recognise on an analytical level that this process has multiple stages, even if they may be empirically super-imposed, it becomes difficult to make sense of the emotional experiences of actual subjects. These always occur temporally and it is the cycles of emotional morphogenesis and morphostasis this temporality entails which renders the sharp dichotomies implicit in Burkitt’s critique effectively irrelevant. Things that happen matter to us because of what we have come to care about and what we have come to care about is shaped by how we have coped, more or less effectively, with the things that have happened to us. Burkitt (2012: 458) is in a sense correct that “emotion colours reflexivity and infuses our perception of others, the world around us and our own selves”. But this recognition does not entail that we collapse our account of such processes into one undifferentiated mass with the concomitant claim that those who object to this are closet Cartesians.

    [Emotional Reflexivity: Feeling, Emotion and Imagination in Reflexive Dialogues. Sociology June 2012 vol. 46 no. 3 458-472]

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