by Mary Holmes, Nathan Manning and Åsa Wettergren
6th June 2019

This week Bristol University Press proudly launches the first issue of Emotions and Society. Editors in Chief Mary Holmes and Åsa Wettergren, and Co-Editor Nathan Manning introduce the inaugural issue out now.

With a sense of amused irony, the editorial team have reflected on the highly emotional, as well as long intellectual and administrative journey leading to the inauguration of this journal.

Our collective memory is a little vague but we think it was almost ten years ago that the idea emerged. The shared emotional resources of the editorial team and the hopefulness and support of our wider academic networks have kept the proposal alive during an amazing roller-coaster journey. We hope and trust that emotion scholars in sociology, and other disciplines interested in emotions in society, will be as excited as we are to see this journal appear.

The contemporary sociology of emotions has a history of several decades but is deeply rooted in the classics of sociology, such as Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Norbert Elias, Harriet Martineau, Adam Smith, David Hume, William James, and others. Mainstream sociology, however, is still indebted to the cognitivist phase that came to dominate sociology after World War II. Arlie Hochschild was one of the sociologists who ventured into emotions in her empirical work in the 1970s and wrote her first book in 1983 – The Managed Heart. In it she argued that emotions are social and subject to conscious cognitive control. Emotion norms – tacit feeling and display rules – are governing social interactions privately as well as in the work setting. People perform emotion work or management to adapt to these norms.

Today the sociology of emotions has become a sociological perspective of growing importance and the initial scepticism of traditional sociology is beginning to fade away. After all it appears that social life, social institutions, and even social structures, draw their meaning and their effect from the fact that human beings can both think and feel. Thoughts and actions give rise to feelings and feelings inform thoughts and action. Norms, values, social structures, and cultures matter because we feel them.

Sociology of emotions presents an approach to emotions that departs from dominant psychological and biological understandings of emotions. In this approach, discrete emotions are not seen as hardwired (although the bodily capacity to feel is) but emerge as a result of socialization processes. These processes shape emotions in combination with our cognitive capacities, for instance language, and the dominant feeling and display rules vary across different cultures and different historical societies. Our emotions originate in social interactions and they carry information crucial for us to navigate the social landscape.

Systems of feeling rules that govern large contexts, such as societies, can be given different names such as emotionology, emotional regime, emotional community, or emotional culture. Common to these concepts is the assumption that it is not individual emotional predispositions that decide our emotional life, but such systems of feeling rules. Moreover, emotions are the reason we follow other social norms.

Shame was an early topic of interest in classical sociology (e.g.Norbert Elias) and has remained so into our times, because shame – as stated by the contemporary emotion sociologist Thomas Scheff – is the social emotion governing conformity with all of society’s other norms. When transgressing norms held in regard by the groups of which we are part, we feel shame as a signal that our bonds to others may be endangered, and that, as a result of the transgression, we may risk exclusion from the group. On the other hand, mutual recognition has long been observed by sociologists to be fundamental in social interaction, and social recognition conveys feelings of being liked, esteemed, and respected by others. The subject experiencing recognition will correspondingly feel a boost of self-confidence and pride – emotions that are crucial for subjective agency. Add to this the notion of collective emotions and emotions embedded in social structures, which means that groups of people may be prone to particular emotions and emotional responses due to their collective positioning in the grid of power and status, and the usefulness of the sociology of emotions to analyse and enhance understanding of contemporary political developments becomes evident.

In this context it is important to emphasize that emotions are not irrational or counter to rational action. On the contrary, as motivations, information, and orientation, emotions are intertwined and essentially inseparable from rational action. Instead, what we often deem irrational depends on other emotive-cognitive factors, for instance ideological worldviews or power relations.

The inaugural issue of Emotions and Society features contributions, of which all but two are commissioned from the ‘contemporary classics’ in the field of sociology of emotions and related disciplines. It contains articles from Arlie Hochschild, Randall Collins, Ian Burkitt, Deborah Gould, Peter Stearns, Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Ashley Barnwell. We are deeply grateful for the enthusiasm and support granted to the new journal by these esteemed contributors on relatively short notice. Our aim has been to offer a broad entrance to the topic of social emotions, and set the scope for future issues – we want to be inclusive and to inspire scholarly debate across disciplines, as long as the contributions focus on the social aspects of emotions. The fact that contributors in this first issue represent predominantly American research reflects the paths taken by emotion sociological research since the 1970s.

Upcoming issues will endeavour to reflect the diversity of scholars now working in the field all over the globe. Common to each of the contributions in this first issue of Emotions and Society is that they highlight what is perhaps the most important point about the inclusion of emotion in social scientific research; that emotion provides a link between structure and agency. Emotion is what makes symbolic as well as concrete, and situated as well as abstract, forms of power matter to humans.

While the following issues will settle the shape and standards of Emotions and Society, this first issue is a celebration of a field that is already maturing and it offers some key voices to remind us why thinking about emotions and society is absolutely vital. Emotions and Society will be a journal that drives scholarly debates forward, demonstrating the fundamental significance of emotions to all aspects of social life and studies of society at large.

Read the first issue of Emotions and Society online.

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Image Credit: Apaha Spi on Unsplash