Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Randall Collins and the Sociology of Emotions

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Randall Collins and the Sociology of Emotions

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

One of the most renowned contemporary sociologists and social theorists, Randall Collins is probably better known in Italy for his popular manuals1 than for his more innovative works; indeed, most of these (The Credential Society, Weberian Sociological Theory, The Sociology of Philosophies, Interaction Ritual Chains) have not yet been translated into Italian2 and the secondary literature dedicated to him is somewhat meagre3. The fact that he is nonetheless a very important figure in the panorama of international sociology is attested to by, amongst other things, his inclusion in the best introductory texts on contemporary sociological theory. For comprehensible pedagogical reasons, these tend to locate Collins within precise sociological traditions, as in the case of Ruth A. Wallace and Alison Wolf who consider the American scholar an heir to the Weberian version of the sociological theory of conflict4, or else to reduce his work to specific themes, as in the case of Patrick Baert and Filipe Carreira da Silva who, rightly of course, emphasise the centrality of the concept of trust (and the emotions) in his reflections5. In this regard, it is probably more correct to note that in reality Collins' ambition is apparently to "elaborate a sociological theory in which the principal sociological traditions (Weberian, Marxist, Durkheimian, interactionist) are combined and integrated into a new synthesis, of which interaction ritual chains (or IRC) have to date been the heart and the nerve centre" (Santoro, 2012: 719). Certainly, in Interaction Ritual Chains (2004), the latest and most analytical presentation of his theory, Collins keeps faith with "the idea that a theory is primarily a tool of explanation and not an imaginative construction of more or less apocalyptic social scenarios [...] [not, that is,] a set of normative prescriptions about what a fair and just society should be" (Barbera, 2005: 159), and confirms himself to be a very different scholar from the sociologists à la page like Bauman and Beck (ibid.) most frequented by Italian sociology, probably because their focus is on social criticism rather than sociological analysis, the terrain on which Collins moves.

So, although he is well-known, Collins is "still in Italy (as in other European countries [...] including Britain) an author and a scholar of whom much remains to be discovered, and, above all, valorised" (Santoro, 2012: 720). It should be noted immediately that the following pages have a circumscribed objective: to thematise the close relationship Collins has with the sociology of emotions. And the objective here is not, at least directly, to situate Collins within what is now, especially in the English-speaking world, the nuanced panorama of the contemporary sociology of emotions. If the aim and ambition of this work are therefore limited, it must also be said, however, that the emotions have always been a fundamental element of his sociological theory. I shall start by briefly outlining (Section 2) how the American sociologist contributed to founding the sociology of emotions. I then briefly describe his ritual theory of emotions (Section 3) and show how an autonomous approach to the emotions inspired by Collins now appears to be configurable (Section 4). Finally (Section 5), I argue that although the criticisms sometimes made of the American sociologist's excessive sensitivity to the emotional factor do hit the target, this should be balanced at least by a consideration which in my opinion is a crucial one: Collins has the merit of having contributed to bringing the emotional actor onto the stage of sociological theory, a merit even more significant if one considers that he is a sociologist and social theorist who cannot be labelled as closely linked to the sociology of emotions and who is absolutely one of the most authoritative figures in contemporary sociological theory in general.

2.Conflict Sociology, a significant (publishing) event in the emergence of the sociology of emotions. …

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