Self And Society


In the last three decades of the twentieth century, sociologists have begun to incorporate emotions into the sociological analysis by theorizing and empirically studying. They have emphasized the social dimension of emotions, placing an individual in a context and examining how social structures and culture influence the emergence and development of emotions. Today, emotions are considered one of the driving forces of individual’s behavior, interaction, and social organization. Moreover, a sociological study of emotions may explain how emotions shaped under sociocultural conditions operate at the micro- and macro-levels of social reality. The aim of this paper is to investigate main contributions of the sociology of emotions and analyze the role of these approaches in the generation of emotions. 


Dramaturgical and Cultural Approach

Turner’s (2007) classification of theories in the sociology of emotion helps to introduce foremost achievements in the investigation. Thus, the main contributions of sociological research of emotions can be presented in the following groups of theoretical approaches: dramaturgical and cultural, symbolic interactionist, interaction ritual, and power and status theories.

Erving Goffman is credited with the introduction of the dramaturgical approach. In this study, he applied conceptual metaphors of dramatic production, game, and ritual to the social interaction. Goffman also utilized Durkheim’s analysis of religious activity among Australian Aboriginals to create a concept of the encounter (Turner 2007). In everyday encounters, the fundamental goal for participants in interaction is to express and sustain the collectively defined situation, which includes decoding of normative expectations and conforming behavior to them. (Stets & Turner 2006). As a rule, the individual’s inability to sustain expressive control leads to the violation of the cultural prescriptions and proscriptions, which is associated with embarrassment and shame (Scheve & Luede 2005). As a result, individuals are motivated to use “repair rituals that aim to restore the normal order” (Lewis, Haviland-Jones & Barrett 2010, p. 34). Although such a ritual serves as a sign of temporarily of the breach of the prescription, it still diminishes the individual’s prestige and power in an encounter (Turner 2007). 

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Contrary to Goffman’s focus on cultural scripts that regulate the interaction, Gordon placed emotion culture in the center of social structures. Emotion beliefs, norms, and vocabularies, being the constituents of emotion culture of a society, define the type and the degree of expression of emotions as well as regulate the flow of interaction in social structures that can influence, or be influenced by, emotions (Stets & Turner 2006). Thus, Gordon concludes that emotions are shaped under the impact of culture, not biology. It means that society members borrow from others the linguistic labels, expressive conducts, autonomic responses, and certain manifestations of the emotion that is appropriate in the specific kind of the social interaction (Lewis, Haviland-Jones & Barrett 2010). Normative anticipation was also analyzed by Hochschild who demonstrated that emotion culture consists of the feeling rules and display rules. The former, being the normative indicator, covers the intensity, direction, and duration of emotion. Display rules define norms related to the ways of expression. In addition, Hochschild also insisted on the importance of framing rules, which determine the meanings of a concrete situation for an individual. Hochschild was also the first to introduce the notion of emotion work, which is the process an individual needs to endure with an attempt to follow the feeling rules and induce the appropriate emotion (Scheve & Luede 2005, p. 319). To be socially accepted, it is obligatory for an individual to express socially expected emotions. Another substantial contribution of Hochschild is connected with her articulation of emotional labor. She employed Goffman’s analysis of individual’s emotion management. When a person conforms to emotion ideologies and complies with feeling rules and display rules of society at work, such management becomes emotional labor (Lewis, Haviland-Jones & Barrett 2010, p. 34). Emotional labor is the employer-directed form and is embedded in job requirements and work expectations. Moreover, the study demonstrated that women and men perform different amounts and kinds of emotion labor. (Stets & Turner 2006). Grandey, Diefendorff & Rupp (2013, p. 3) significantly extended this notion, identifying three “lenses” in emotional labor. The first focuses on “intraphysic experience,” which is the examination of strategies applied by a worker to manage his or her emotions as well as their psychological effects (Grandey, Diefendorff & Rupp 2013, p. 3). The second lens covers the factors that impact emotional displays and the congruence with emotions that an individual felt but did not show. The last lens is called “occupational requirements view,” which analyzes the methods applied by organization and related to occupation to influence the worker’s experience and expression of emotions (Grandey, Diefendorff & Rupp 2013 p. 3). With the intention to determine the full scope of the emotion culture concept, several researchers analyzed the specific content of a society’s emotion culture. Thus, Lofland dedicated his attention to “grief,” and Clark examined “sympathy” (Stets & Turner 2006 p. 118). In addition, Clarke (2003) analyzed “envy” from both a social constructionist approach and a psychodynamic study, in particular using the cultural distinction and the local moral code. 

However, emotions cannot be regarded as universal because they usually evolve as a response to the unique culture of a concrete society. Hence, the substance of emotions will vary from one society to another. Moreover, with the structural change in society, emotional responses tend to alter as well (Turner 2007). Correspondingly, Harre notes that historic changes may also result in perishing of some emotions. In addition, he distinguishes two social components that are responsible for the emotion arousal: local language and moral order. Harre states that there are “modes of cultural variation among emotion system” (Clarke 2003, p. 154). For example, in two different cultures, the same emotion can be either enhanced or suppressed. It means that emotions have varying degrees of significance (Clarke 2003). 

Symbolic Interactionist Approach

Contrary to the dramaturgical focus on the cultural script and impression management, symbolic interactionist theories state that self and identity are influential in the emotional arousal. Interactionists presented the study about the constraints of culture, and the methods that are necessary for the individuals to align their feelings with the expectations of others. Generally, individuals are motivated to confirm their self-conceptions and context-dependent identities in all episodes of interaction and adjust cognitions about self to the responses of others (Barbalet 2005 p. 126). The symbolic interactionist approach is mainly based on the theories of Mead, Blumer, and Cooley (Stets and Turner 2006). Blumer emphasized that self changes in the context of social interaction as society develops through “joint action” (Stets and Turner 2006, p. 157). Mead divided the self into the “I” and the “me”. The first represents the impulsive element that has an incentive to act, and the symbolic processor that collects the anticipated reactions of others, respectively.  Mead described how emotional expression of one person creates certain meanings that induce concrete responses in others in the particular situation (Barbalet 2005; Turner 2007). In brief, expression of emotions serves as a stimulus for other’s reactions. Mead’s conception of the relation between social action and impulses produced by “disequilibrium with the environment” has become the fundamental principle of affect control theory (Stets & Turner 2006, p. 180). Colley’s study of the looking-glass self extended the significance of disequilibrium. In contrast to Mead’s dedication to the cognitive representation of self, Colley concentrated on emotional dimensions. He asserted that people’s main concern relates to their self-evaluation and self-feeling in respect to other’s perception of them. An individual has an emotional response to how he or she thinks others see them and whether other’s judgment corresponds with the person’s opinion of self (Barbalet 2005). Moreover, he was the first to incorporate emotions explicitly into the symbolic interactionist study, stating that pride and shame may emerge in people who reflect on how others evaluate them (Turner 2007). 

Interaction Ritual Theory

Randall Collins developed the interaction ritual theory implementing the studies of Goffman and Durkheim. Durkheim’s biggest contribution is the study of the mechanisms that produce the intense emotions on the basis of solidarity and culture. Durkheim explained how rituals trigger emotional arousal, which he viewed as collective effervescence (Scheve & Luede 2005). Collins stated that collective effervescence comprises group-focused solidarity, which is associated with positive and enthusiastic feelings towards the group; and individual-centered emotional energy, which is composed of confidence and desire to initiate interaction. These two components usually relate to the symbols connected with rituals (Stets & Turner 2006, p. 136). For Collins and followers, the entire encounter resembles a ritual. This theory asserts that social reality consists of interaction ritual chains that acquire and maintain “emotional energies” (Turner 2007 p. 101). The cycle “interaction – emotions – symbols – interaction” (Stets & Turner 2006, p. 135) creates patterns of interaction and presents the fundamental structural capacity that forms society. The core goal of individuals is to accumulate their emotional energy in an encounter and increase their cultural resources. However, power and status usually mediates this intention (Lewis, Haviland-Jones & Barrett 2010, p. 40).  

Power and Status Theory

Like interaction ritual theory, power and status study also tries to document the effects of authority and prestige on the emotion arousal. Kemper was the first to assert that emotions result from social relationships associated with the dimensions of power and social status (Clarke 2003). Kemper (2011, p. 13) stated that emotions are in relation to “involuntary compliance,” or individual’s relative power and status, to changes in authority and prestige, and expectations for obtaining or relinquishing them. In brief, social structures and emotion have reciprocal influence on each other. For example, when people gain power, they are satisfied, confident, and secure. On the contrary, if individuals lose authority, they are exposed to anxiety, fear, and lack of confidence. The concept of expectation is fundamental in this study because when a person expects to reach power, but fails to do so, he or she is subject to apprehension and anxiety. In contrast, when people do not anticipate power but happen to acquire it, they gain satisfaction and self-confidence. Similarly, with the receipt of prestige, individuals experience satisfaction and well-being and tend to express sentiments to others. If people lose status, they take the responsibility for it and feel shame and embarrassment, or sadness and depression in case of the substantial loss. They are overwhelmed with anger and aggression if they blame others for depriving them of their prestige (Kemper 2011). 

Power and status theory is a crucial study because it rationalizes people’s conduct, explaining that all actions that people perform, including altruistic and compassionate ones, are done with the single purpose to augment power and status. However, this theory presents a deterministic and predictive description of individuals and does not cover irrational or spontaneous behaviors. As a result, it cannot explain the emotions that can be generated under such circumstances. In particular, Kemper states that individuals compelled by power and status act and experience particular emotions in accordance with the values and norms of a certain society. Nevertheless, he does not include in the theory identity development and cognitive-behavioral mechanisms that are essential for understanding how emotions are shaped in the broader context. Moreover, power and status theory addresses only a few negative and certain positive emotions, excluding a wider variety of other specific emotions and their intensity. The analysis of them would provide a deeper explanation of the emergence of emotions and patterns of people’s behavior. 

Among a few researchers in the field of macro-structural theories, Barbalet (2005) presented the analysis of the distribution of such emotions as confidence, shame, vengefulness, resentment, and fear among members of society that have different levels of power and status. When social structures alter, individual emotionally responds to the new circumstances (Stets & Turner 2006). If a person’s self-image is misrepresented, he or she will seek the mechanisms to rectify the self-concept. One of the techniques is weeping. For Barbalet (2005), weeping denotes a somatic-emotional understanding of changes that self undergoes, expressing both joy and sorrow. Thus, the function of weeping is to signal and convey a transformation that self has experienced (Barbalet 2005). 


In summary, analysis of emotions has become one of the cutting edges of sociological theorizing. Different theories can be implemented in various interactive contexts and interpretations of human behavior. Thus, a number of researchers have been developing dramaturgical and cultural, power and status, symbolic interactionist, and interaction ritual approaches. Due to their significant contribution in these fields, it has become apparent that emotions are a fundamental link between individual action and social structures. Further study of the social construction of emotions would reveal not only affective components of disciplines but also pivotal attributes of socialization.

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