Emotions in Social Life: Critical Themes and Contemporary Issues

Emotions in Social Life: Critical Themes and Contemporary Issues

Emotions in Social Life: Critical Themes and Contemporary Issues

Emotions in Social Life: Critical Themes and Contemporary Issues


The contributors provide a comprehensive 'state of the art' assessment of the sociology of emotions, drawing upon work from scholars of international stature as well as newer writers in the field, and present new empirical research.


A historical sociology?

Tim Newton

This chapter will draw on the work of Norbert Elias and Marjorie Morgan in order to place our understanding of emotion within a sociohistorical context. Attention is paid to the implications of this work for our current theorizing around emotional labour, informalization, and gender and emotion. Some critical consideration is also given to limitations in the work of Elias, particularly in regard to the metanarratival ambitions evinced in his work.

The chapter will attempt to further our understanding of emotion through a consideration of the development of emotion codes from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries in France and England. Such emotion codes will be explored through the historical analysis of their inscription within the social practices of civility, manners and etiquette. The argument to develop this kind of analysis follows directly from that supportive of social/cultural constructionist perspectives, and their emphasis upon the plasticity of emotion and its lack of an essential universal vocabulary. For once one acknowledges that emotion is socially constructed one is also implicitly drawing attention to the historical, based on the simple argument that the social and cultural are historically formed (Abrams 1982). In other words, how can we really claim to know the social or the cultural if we are inattentive to the relations surrounding their development? More specifically in relation to this book, how can we aim to understand contemporary issues in emotion without exploring the historical context in which they have evolved?

Many current writers on emotion would not take exception to such arguments. In consequence, it remains surprising how little detailed analysis has been undertaken that relates both the historical and the social to emotion. Even writers who are sensitive to the need for history still appear either to thinly sketch the historical context, or to provide an historical account that is unintegrated with their analysis of emotion. An example of the former comes from James who drew on the ‘historical perspective’ of Elias in order to argue for the commonality of emotional regulation and restraint (James 1989:18). But in her own analysis of the association

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