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  • Mark 9:33 am on June 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , everyday life   

    Climate change as doorstep politics 

    A few months ago James Meadway, advisor to John McDonnell, predicted on Novara media that climate change would soon become a doorstep issue in the UK. If unpredictable weather events become a regular part of life for people, the recognition of their underlying cause is immensely significant. However this passage from Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything left me feeling pessimistic. From pg 34-45:

    When public opinion on the big social and political issues changes, the trends tend to be relatively gradual. Abrupt shifts, when they come, are usually precipitated by dramatic events. Which is why pollsters were so surprised by what had happened to perceptions about climate change in just four years. A 2007 Harris poll found that 71 percent of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would alter the climate. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51 percent. In June 2011 the number was down to 44 percent—well under half the population. Similar trends have been tracked in the U.K. and Australia. Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, described the statistics in the United States as “among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history.” 13 The overall belief in climate change has rebounded somewhat since its 2010–11 low in the United States. (Some have hypothesized that experience with extreme weather events could be contributing, though “the evidence is at best very sketchy at this point,” says Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who specializes in the politics of climate change.) But what remains striking is that on the right-wing side of the political spectrum, the numbers are still way down. 14

    This question of how the ruptured expectations of everyday life are explained (or explained away) is an immensely interesting one. How will denialism sustain himself when the evidence something is changing becomes increasingly impossible to deny? Accept the change and attribute it to something else? Claim the change is innocuous? Deny it all together?

  • Mark 2:23 pm on February 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , everyday life, interpassivity, passivity,   

    The tragedy of the academic commons: when abstraction makes us passive 

    Using the communal kitchen at the Faculty of Education last Friday, I noticed that the lid had fallen off the bin and was sitting on the floor. In the middle of something and keen to get home, I didn’t stop to pick it up. I just came back from the same kitchen on Monday afternoon and noticed it was still on the floor. “Ah the tragedy of the commons” I said internally while stroking my chin and nodding sagely, before beginning to walk out of the room. At which point I realised how absurd I was being and stopped to pick the lid up from the floor, immediately wishing I’d done it on Friday.

    It left me wondering how certain forms of abstraction, stepping back from a concrete phenomenon and subsuming it into a general category, make action less likely. There’s something about that moment of understanding, recognising a fragment of the general in the mundanity of the particular, liable to induce passivity. It’s hard to argue a counter factual but I suspect I would have immediately picked up the lid if I hadn’t experienced that moment of abstract recognition. However I’m aware I’m doing exactly the same thing in writing this blog, recognising a general propensity in a particular instance, encouraging others to do the same by raising it discursively in a public forum.

    • Mehret Biruk 7:09 pm on February 4, 2019 Permalink

      Living with roommates, this is a particularly common occurrence. Oh, everything that remains untouched for an infinite period of time as we all make room around it to carry on with our daily tasks.

  • Mark 2:10 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , everyday life, ,   

    The Sociology of Awkwardness: Being (very) human in a digital age 

    What is awkwardness? It’s something we recognise. It’s something which is everywhere. Yet when we do think about it, it’s often seen as something trivial and mundane, representing an interruption of decorum or a warp in the texture of micro-social interaction. It’s something that can be intensely felt but is soon forgotten and, where it is not, we see this inability to forget as something pathological. In this sense awkwardness tends to be relegated to the periphery of social life when in fact it is something constitutive of it. There could be no social interaction without awkwardness because its possibility is inherent in the coming together of individuals in social situations. As Erving Goffman describes this:

    Whatever his other concerns, then, whatever his merely-situated interests, the individual is obliged to ‘come into play’ upon entering the situation and to stay ‘in play’ while in the situation, sustaining this diffuse orientation at least until he can officially take himself beyond range of the situation. (Goffman 1963: 25)

    The potential for awkwardness is inherent in ‘coming into play’ and sustaining an expected orientation while ‘in play’ before exiting in a manner equally congruent with the expectations within a situation. What’s important to grasp though is that awkwardness is not just a subjective response to an objective situation. As Adam Kotsko argues,

    First there is what I will call everyday awkwardness, which seems to originate with particular individuals. It combines aspects of my gracelessness and the singer’s uncomfortable performance. It’s difficult to deny that there are people for whom awkwardness is a kind of perverse skill, who bring it with them wherever they go. We are only able to identify someone as awkward, however, because the person does something that is inappropriate for a given context. Most often, these violations do not involve an official written law — instead, the grace that’s in question is the skillful navigation of the mostly unspoken norms of a community … Even when personal deficits make certain individuals seem extremely awkward by nature, however, awkwardness remains a social phenomenon, and therefore the analysis of awkwardness should focus not on awkward individuals but on the entire social situation in which awkwardness makes itself felt. (Kotsko 2010: 7)

    His point is that awkwardness emerges relationally. It arises situationally in relation to norms concerning ‘coming into play’ and ‘staying in play’ which are endorsed and enforced by others within the situation. However what I really like about Kotsko’s analysis is his attentiveness to the way in which “awkwardness moves through social network, it spreads” because “you can’t observe an awkward situation without being drawn in: you are made to feel awkward as well, even if it is probably to a lesser degree than the people directly involved” (Kotsko 2010: 8). One claim he makes on the basis of this is that comedy relies on this ‘drawing on’. Another more counter-intuitive claim is that awkwardness “actually creates a weird kind of social bond” through “in the moment of awkwardness” being “forced to share to varying degrees in the experience of awkwardness” (Kotsko 2010: 9). He seeks to place this intrinsically social character of awkwardness in historical perspective:

    Following the pattern, one could say that the tension of awkwardness indicates that no social order is self-evident and no social order accounts for every possibility. Awkwardness shows us that humans are fundamentally social, but that they have no built-in norms: the norms that we develop help us to ‘get by,’ with some proving more helpful than others. We might say, then, that awkwardness is what prompts us to set up social norms in the first place — and what prompts us to transform them. (Kotsko 2010: 16)

    This seems an implausibly strong claim but it’s one rooted in a interesting Heideggerian analysis of awkwardness. He suggests it as a counterpart to Heidegger’s understanding of anxiety and boredom. But unlike these experiences which isolate the individual, awkwardness unites them, albeit through the creation of a peculiar and perverse sort of social bond. His claim is that awkwardness drives the structuring of sociality through its perpetual tendency to emerge, as well as to spread, in the absence of such structure. Awkwardness (stemming from the provisionality of social normativity) in interaction is analogous to anxiety (stemming from the finitude of existence) in individuals. But Kotsko argues that we live in an inherently awkward age:

    Everyday awkwardness happens in a context where the social order seems more or less adequate and comfortable, but the provisional nature of every social order indicates that it’s not an all-or-nothing question of either having a social order or none, as in the opposition between everyday and radical awkwardness, between awkwardness in violation of a social norm and awkwardness in the absence of a social norm. I propose that there is a particularly awkward kind of awkwardness in between the two, which I will cultural awkwardness. It arises when there seems to be a set of norms in force, but it feels somehow impossible to follow them or even fully know them. Just as it is easier to criticize than to create something, a social order in decline maintain its ability to tell you what you’re doing wrong even as it is losing its ability to provide a convincing account of what it would look like to do things right … Contemporary mainstream middle-class social norms are not remotely up to the task of minimizing awkwardness, but at the same time, there seems to be no real possibility of developing a convincing positive alternative. (Kotsko 2010: 16-17).

    He makes a convincing case that the role of awkwardness in comedy is not simply a matter of playing upon the familiarity of everyday awkwardness. Instead there is an elaboration within some recognisable genres of the broader cultural malaise and its attendant anxieties. He takes Judd Apatow films as representative of a sense that “the order of adulthood somehow doesn’t work, that it needs the awkward supplement of the male bonding it supposedly overcomes”. In the absence of new traditions, which is the only cultural condition in which the phrase ‘new traditions’ could be coherent, we are left with a “pervasive sense that despite the fact that we can never fully embrace the traditional norms, we are somehow hardwired to head in that direction and will do so immediately once our attempts to do something else fail” (Kotsko 2010: 65). These films not only represent friendships which are ‘structurally awkward’, in that they are grounded in opposition to cultural conventions, but they are ones which are eventually cast off in an unreflexive embrace of a circumscribed normativity. In contrast to this resist and then do it anyway approach to negotiating cultural awkwardness, Kotsko finds inspiration in the writings of St. Paul’s on the possibility of cultural assimilation, imagining communities where,

    Awkwardness is no longer a way of escaping social norms, and social norms are no longer a way of escaping awkwardness: instead, people simply meet each other, without the mediation of a defined cultural order, and figure out how to live together on a case by case basis. (Kotsko 2010: 80).

    From this perspective the problem of cultural awkwardness becomes one of our response to it. Rather than “trying to come up with some permanent way of overcoming awkwardness, one should go with it” (Kotsko 2010: 79). In this way he inverts the notion of awkwardness, leading us “beyond the common sense notion of awkwardness as a disturbance in the social fabric and toward something like utopia” (Kotsko 2010: 86). Far from being something to be overcome, awkwardness in fact represents an opening towards a more fully human mode of being-with each other. It is a possibility we are forced to confront, however inchoately, because “opportunities to enjoy the community of awkwardness are always there, always available, always ready to erupt, because awkwardness is undefeatable”. Under such conditions it becomes imperative for us to cultivate “the peculiar kind of grace that allows us to break down and admit that we are finally nothing more or less than human beings who will always be stuck with each other and, more importantly, to admit that we are glad of it” (Kotsko 2010: 89).

    It’s in these terms that we can begin to argue for the incipient universality underpinning some of the most ephemeral and seemingly trivial examples of internet culture. Whatever we think of the humour or its enactment, the evident virality of these cultural products is susceptible to explanation. Why are they so popular? Why are people so prone to sharing them? In asking questions like this we shouldn’t lose sight of the brutally hierarchical ecosystem governing the dissemination of ‘viral content’:

    He describes an Internet food chain, a series of tiers of websites that disseminate viral content. The highest-performing, most visible websites — BuzzFeed, Boing Boing, Gawker, Reddit — often graze on content discovered by lower-visibility sites. The lower-tier sites are often the ones to lift TV news bloopers or funny Facebook photos from obscurity. But they depend on their mainstream predators/enablers to elevate something to meme status.

    However we should also avoid the temptation to reduce it to this ecosystem, dismissing it as ephemera leveraged for the strategic advantage of these major players. This ecosystem has created an opening for viral content factories, as well as those intuitive curators particular able to locate many items and successfully gauge their potential virality, but it doesn’t seem tenable to suggest it has created the receptiveness to such content. Furthermore, there’s obviously much more to memes than awkwardness. But my claim is that this constitutes a clearly identifiable genre or category of web meme and, in so far as this is true, has obvious implications for how we see the kind of argument being made by Kotsko.

    What explains the evident receptiveness of internet users to web memes concerning awkwardness? It is the cultural order leveraged to promote and circulate its own gaps and failings. We recognise ourselves in the dramatisation and staging of awkwardness. There’s something deeply human about some of this ephemera in spite of it being, well, ephemera… perhaps it points to an emerging democratisation of the instances of cultural awkwardness Kotsko identifies in TV and film. Or perhaps it’s just a way of wasting time on the internet. Either way I found myself oddly drawn to it and it’s this feeling of being drawn in, the appetite for content of this sort which can be so readily written off as mindless compulsion, which interests me as a qualitative sociologist.

  • Mark 10:34 am on March 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , comportment, , everyday life, , , , ,   

    On Irritation, Or, How Social Networks Tend To Make Us Slightly More Assholic 

    In the last couple of months, I’ve found myself reflecting on irritation. What is it? It’s one of our most recognisable reactions to the world, yet it’s hard to be precise about what it is. Is it an emotion? Is it a state of mind? Is it a reaction to the world? This is the definition which Wikipedia offers:

    Annoyance is an unpleasant mental state that is characterized by such effects as irritation and distraction from one’s conscious thinking. It can lead to emotions such as frustration and anger. The property of being easily annoyed is called irritability.

    There’s a whole model of the person implicit within this which I’m sceptical of. The idea that mental states manifests themselves in effects with implications for cognition, generated by propensities and generating emotions. It’s an individualised account, even if a multifaceted one, concerning something that’s deeply relational.

    The most straight forward definition of irritation would be ‘something which irritates’. In one sense it’s circular, telling us nothing about what irritation is, but it captures the relationality of the reaction. We are irritated by something. We find something irritating. It involves an evaluative relation to the world, but one which, as it were, goes wrong. Far from the smoothly hermeneutic world of the post-Aristotelian philosophers, we have the Goffmanian reality of living together (in a world which frustrates our purposes).

    So if irritation is being irritated by something, what is it to be irritated? To be “angered, provoked, or annoyed” or “inflamed or made raw, as a part of the body”. The second definition concerns the resolutely physical but I think it captures something important. We are irritated when we are inflamed by the world, made raw by its recalcitrance. People or circumstances irritates us when they impede our routine movement through the world. Things are not as we expect. We’re forced to calibrate ourselves in relation to the world, pushed back into ourselves confronted with a world that resists us, rather than easily making or way through it. 

    We get irritated by others when they do not act as we expect them to. We get irritated by others when they do not act as we think they ought to. In this sense, I would argue that irritation tracks declining social integration: the less agreement there is about how we ought to comport ourselves, the more likely we are to experience irritation in daily life.

    What interests me is how we respond to this. If we simply make internal allowances for the fact that others may have different expectations and aspirations to ourselves, it’s easy for the irritation to dissipate. A trivial example: I find it irritating when people talk loudly in the steam room at my gym. But I also recognise that some people go there to socialise, whereas for me it’s a resolutely individual activity. Reminding myself of that fact usually leads the irritation to subside.

    On the other hand, if I seek external confirmation for my reaction, it’s unlikely to subside. This is where social media comes in: the imagined interlocutor (what Danny Miller calls the ‘meta best friend’) can serve as a outlet, without the possibility for censure that arises when you share with a concrete individual who’s liable to tell you to stop obsessing and let other people be. It’s even more effective when an agent of this imagined interlocutor, someone who emerges from the background to respond definitively before fading back into it and propping up an imagined consensus, confirms that they too find this behaviour irritating.

    Sharing irritation through social networks can facilitate an extreme form of what critical realists call communicative reflexivity. We find confirmation of our immediate reactions in others, rather than further interrogating our reaction internally, leading to a hardening of our reaction and a disposition to act similarly in future. I don’t think digital technology straight forwardly causes a decline in social integration but I do think social networks can amplify personal reactions which entrench the decline by, as it were, depleting the reserves of tolerance we have for others who think about and approach life in a different way to us. This is connected to the paradox of incivility and it’s something I’d like to come back to in greater depth.

  • Mark 7:27 pm on May 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , everyday life, social situations, ,   

    Why do people blame their iPads for the fact they can’t concentrate in meetings? 

    This is a line of thought I seem to encounter ever more frequently, perhaps reflecting how integrated into everyday life these mobile technologies are becoming:

    I am deeply attached to my ipad and have it with me almost constantly. I check my email obsessively and tend to all the alerts and messages generated by the various apps and social media platforms. I keep papers for meetings and can access my calendar with all the notes on my rather complex work schedule. It is invaluable.

    The problem is, in many meetings, that I am prey to the temptation to ‘look down, not up’. The technology is pulling me out of the context, the meeting I am in, into another space. This is not an original observation, many social commentators have remarked upon the substitution of what they deem an ersatz virtual experience for a real one.

    This phenomenon is clearly not just about the workplace, but it is there I would like to focus. Give a scientific presentation for instance and a majority of the attendees will be staring at the device on their laps, a few using it to support the talk, following up on terms they do not understand, many more checking email or facebook. We clearly have to find our way out of the situation and we need practical strategies for addressing it, not rhetoric or finger wagging.


    However I find it obviously problematic. People have always absented themselves from social situations in which they’re participating, often without any outward appearance of doing so (until they’re asked a question). I wouldn’t deny there’s something particularly insidious about iPads and laptops, given the genuinely practical role they can serve in contexts like meetings, which is worthy of discussion. But there’s an oddly abdicable tone which frequently creeps into these debates, as if the iPad creates an impulse to zone out that was previously absent, as opposed to providing a means through which an existing impulse can find expression. In doing so, the technology may act back up on the propensity, intensifying it by providing a recurrent grounds (“I wonder if I have any new e-mail”) for enacting it. But the propensity does not originate in the technology. It would be like blaming WordPress and Feedly for the fact I’ve only written 400 words in the last 3 hours.

  • Mark 5:06 pm on April 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: everyday life, , solitude, ,   

    Why ask “why talk”? 

    Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 18.03.07

    Well this is interesting (sort of). Though it reminds me of the ‘Free Hugs Society’ some peculiarly obnoxious students at Warwick established a few years ago, something which prompted them to go around grabbing strangers while being seemingly oblivious to how intrusive and problematic this was to many of the people being grabbed. The people behind it seem to be predominately social marketers (see also the partners) which contributes to the irritating, though interesting, zeitgeistyness of the project. I’m fascinated by the process which leaves “why talk?” as a coherent question that can be answered by invoking popularised notions of social capital.

  • Mark 10:32 am on February 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: everyday life, sociology of everyday life,   

    CfP: Sociologies of Everyday Life 

    A journal of the British Sociological Association
    Sociologies of Everyday Life

    Special Issue Call for Papers
    Deadline for submissions: 31 August 2014

    Everyday life sociology is a well-established tradition in the discipline and interest in ways of understanding day-to-day worlds continues to be significant. These engagements are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, across the social sciences as well as outside them. It is in this context that the 2015 Special Issue aims to provide a timely opportunity to take stock.

    We aim to be able to collect together a series of papers that variously reflect the breadth and diversity of sociology’s enchantments and engagements with everyday worlds as well as the imaginative and innovative ways in which the discipline has sought to analyze and respond to it.

    We invite papers that explore, through the lens of everyday life, one or more of the following indicative themes and/or areas:

    •       Theories of everyday life and conceptual approaches
    •       Materialities, cultures and senses
    •       Social practices, activities and interactions
    •       Social divisions and exclusions
    •       Animals, entities and the more-than-human
    •       Senses of community and belonging
    •       Selfhood and identifications
    •       Public, semi public spaces and the built environment
    •       Domestic spaces and routines
    •       Institutions and organisations
    •       Affect and intimacies
    •       Landscapes, localities, places and place making
    •       Convivalities and socialities and social interdependencies
    •       Everyday racism, cultural difference and everyday multiculture
    •       Environmental practices and consumption
    •       In/security and violence
    •       Methods – researching the everyday

    The Editors welcome contributions on relevant topics in any field of social science engaging with sociological research, from early career and established academics, and from those outside academia.

    Queries: To discuss initial ideas or seek editorial advice, please contact the Sociology Editors by email on Sociology-Editors@open.ac.uk

    Full Call for Papers can be viewed at

  • Mark 3:47 pm on December 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: everyday, everyday life, ,   

    Towards a realist sociology of everyday life 

    I’m planning to write a paper next year for submission to this special issue on the sociology of everyday life. One aspect of the paper is an argument that Margaret Archer’s recent work offers a rich set of conceptual resources for understanding everyday life. Another will be an attempt to address confusions about voluntarism and agency through the frame of ‘everyday life’, arguing that when we understand individual agency as both grounded in the everyday and always in motion, these putative issues come to seem problematically abstract, actively obscuring the complex realities of everyday life, as we find all find ourselves subject to complex constellations of constraint and enablement. In doing so I’ll be drawing on a realist (mis)reading of Goffman, arguing that his dramaturgical approach can be used to flesh out Archer’s arguments about individuals personifying social roles. These are some of the lines of thought I’ll be developing for the paper:

    1. Conceptualizing biographical events
    2. The Phenomenology of Obsessiveness
    3. The Phenomenology of Inertia
    4. The Sociology of Awkwardness
    5. The Sociology of Thinking
    6. The Sociology of Daydreaming
    7. The Sociology of the Quiet Zone
  • Mark 1:26 pm on December 13, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: everyday life,   

    CfP: Sociologies of Everyday Life 

    Deadline for submissions: 31 August 2014

    We are pleased to invite papers for consideration in the Sociology Editor’s Special Issue in 2015. The theme will be the Sociologies of Everyday Life.

    Everyday life sociology is a well-established tradition in the discipline and interest in ways of understanding day-to-day worlds continues to be significant. These engagements are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, across the social sciences as well as outside them. It is in this context that the 2015 Special Issue aims to provide a timely opportunity to take stock. This is intended to be a reflective moment – where has sociology arrived at in its attempts to think through the everyday? It is also intended to be an anticipative moment – what are the new logics, foci, approaches, uses, limits of sociologies of the everyday?


  • Mark 11:58 am on August 24, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , emotion, everyday life,   

    Being Human, Emotionality and Everyday Life 

    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).

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