With the encouragement, engagement and support of some very special people I have been thinking about my thoughts (and attempting to clarify them) as regards the relationship between cultural concepts of emotion, morality and value.
Today I read three chapters from the edited volume, ‘Emotion and culture: Empirical studies of mutual influence’ (1997). I found Geoffrey White’s chapter ‘Affecting Culture: Emotion and Morality in Everyday Life’, particularly relevant and useful.
Here are a few gems I thought to share:
‘Emotions and the ways in which people think about them are fundamentally relational. Emotions are neither entirely inside nor outside the body. They are mediators (both social and semantic) and are conceptualised as such in most folk models of emotion’ (p. 231).
‘Emotions arise in contexts of transaction, marking boundaries between inside and outside, and defining relations between me and you, or we and you-plural, that are probably always in flux and subject to the moment-by-moment negotiations of social interaction. As such, emotions are well suited to the moral work of (re)shaping the course of events and (re)defining the nature of social relations’ (p. 237).
‘Contrary to the Western view of emotions as inchoate and hidden in the unknowable recesses of the mind, emotions and emotion concepts play a strategic role in cultural reasoning about the social realities that link the self to others. In this chapter, I have tried to draw a link between the forms of reasoning about interpersonal relations associated with emotions and the socio-moral work that emotions do in everyday life. Thus, shared models of emotion that lead people to make inferences jointly about the antecedents of emotion make it possible for people engaged in conversation to use emotional expressions (linguistic and non-linguistic) to appropriate or transform the meaning of social situations. In this manner, emotions are used, both consciously and unconsciously, to mediate actively social relations in much the same way in which any set of cultural signs or symbols may be used to structure interaction or manage impressions’ (pp. 236-237).
‘Research in a wide range of languages and cultures indicates that when people talk about emotion, they are not talking primarily about states inside the individual, nor are they talking about responses or events outside the person. Rather, they are talking about processes that mediate or link persons, actions and events. The strong version of this argument is that emotions are everywhere prototypically social; that at their core meanings and pragmatic consequences pertain to interpersonal relations and interactions’ (p. 236).