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The Temporality Of Emotion: Constructing Past Emotions

The temporality of emotion: Constructing past emotions




  Symbolic Interaction, Volume 25, Number 3, pages 363–378, ISSN 0195-6086; online ISSN 1533-8665.© 2002 by the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. All rights reserved.Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, Journals Division, 2000 Center St., Ste. 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223. Direct all correspondence to Christine Mattley, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ohio University,Athens, OH 45701-2979; e-mail  : [email protected]. The Temporality of Emotion: ConstructingPast Emotions Christine Mattley Ohio University  Symbolic interactionists have developed a rich literature on emotion that has advanced our understanding of the socially constructed nature of emo- tions and has provided a wealth of understanding about emotions and emotional life. Left unexplored, however, has been the temporal nature of emotion. Similarly, interactionists’ renewed interest in time and temporality has not focused on emotion. In this article I describe the implicit leads inthese two literatures that need to be pulled together to make the linkage clear. Drawing on the work dening emotions as social objects and onGeorge Herbert Mead’s theory of the past, I describe how emotional pasts are used as foundations for situated actions. I also explain how we use the emotional pasts in four areas: the individual level, individuals in inter- action, collective behavior, and the social structural level. This linkage pro- vides insights for understanding how we use emotional pasts when we construct and enact behavior. I argue that emotional pasts are important tools used in the interpretation and construction of present emotions, to sit- uate selves and others, and to construct the social order. Recently interactionists have reopened the topics of time and temporality (see Fla-herty 1999; Maines 2001). Generally the interactionist approach has emphasizedeither how time becomes structured through the use of the past in a present toproject a future or how time itself is experienced in the here and now. That is, atten-tion has focused on how our lives become organized and patterned in reference tohow we use time and how we assess and reect on the experience of time passing(Vail 1999). However, one area of temporality that has not been fully explored isthat of emotions and emotionality. Explicit but unarticulated in this literature is thetemporal aspect of emotion. Many studies on time and temporality contain descrip-tions relevant to the temporality of emotion; and many contain comments on emo-tion, although it is not the focus of these works. Likewise, the literature on emotionand on emotion work contains implicit, unarticulated leads on temporality. Studies  364 Symbolic Interaction Volume 25, Number 3, 2002 often contain descriptions of experiencing emotion or of doing emotion work thatallude to temporality. My concern is to pull together the implicit leads in these two lit-eratures to make this linkage clear. The articulation of this linkage has implicationsfor the broader ethnographic literature in which emotion is one aspect, touched onin passing. I believe that an interactionist view of emotions can be greatly informedby examining how we experience time and how we use time when constructing andenacting emotional acts. Without an explicit articulation of the relationship be-tween emotion and temporality, we will fail to fully understand emotion.It is easy to fall prey to seeing emotions as individual phenomena, however, soci-ologists have contributed to our understanding of emotion as socially constructed.Beginning with the inuential work of Hochschild (1979), many interactionists haveadvanced a sophisticated view of emotions and emotional life over the past two de-cades. This work has identied several foci, including the theoretical understandingof emotion, the social construction of emotion, emotion work, and the role of emo-tion as a part of the perceptual present. Even so, the temporal nature of emotionhas largely gone unexplored. Consequently, I believe the literatures on temporalityand on emotion can be extended by including an examination of the pasts of emo-tion. This article is an attempt to dene such an extension in two main areas: howwe use emotional pasts as foundations for situated actions and how we use the emo-tional pasts in four areas, the individual level, individuals in interaction, collectivebehavior, and nally, the social structural level. I begin by reviewing some of thework describing the social nature of emotions and emotions as social acts. I thenmove to the work on temporality, including how social pasts are used as founda-tions for situated action and George Herbert Mead’s dimensions of the past. Fi-nally, I suggest the relationship between emotion and temporality in each of theareas suggested above. EMOTIONS AS SOCIAL OBJECTS The socially constructed nature of emotions is widely accepted among many sociolo-gists studying emotion (for reviews of the constructionist paradigm, see Flaherty1992; Harre 1986; Hochschild 1983; Staske 1996; Thoits 1989). As Flaherty explains it: [P]roponents of the social constructionist paradigm start from the assumptionthat emotions are not epiphenomenal to underlying physiological processes. . . .As mental (rather than purely physiological) phenomena, emotional experienceis said to be characterized by innite plasticity. . . . Culture and social structureare thought to shape the dynamics of interaction by means of norms that, inkeeping with the nature of the immediate situation, dictate both the expressionand experience of emotion. (1992:169) Not only does culture shape emotion, but the social contexts in which emotionsemerge shape them as well. Specically, emotions are “temporally and relationallyrooted in the social situation” (Denzin 1984:52). In the same vein, McCarthy (1989:56)reminds us, “Giving emotions a Meadian reading, emotions are neither substances nor  The Temporality of Emotion 365 states; emotions are emergents within social acts.” McCarthy also denes emotionsas social objects, formed by a social process, generated by actors and groups who haverendered people’s feelings and “emotional lives” of social signicance (1989:67). Bydening emotions in this way she is saying that they are constituted and sustainedby group processes: emotions srcinate and develop in social relations and exist rel-ative to social acts. While her interactionist approach emphasizes the socially con-structed reality of emotions, McCarthy also emphasizes that “feelings give rise toreective understanding. They provoke reection. Feelings also represent a re- sponse  to reection and thought. In both cases, experience and emotion form partof a process of knowing oneself, another, a situation” (1989:60). This reective pro-cess gives emotions a temporal framework. Emotions are social objects that whenexperienced, invite appraisals of here-and-now experiences as well as reconstruc-tions of the past and projections of hypothetical futures.Couch (1992) provides another focus in the interactionist literature on emotions.He suggests the usual assumption is that emotions are psychological phenomenathat disrupt social order if not suppressed. However, he argues that emotions aresignicant for creating the social order. He demonstrates this signicance by focusingon how evocative transactions contribute to the creation and afrmation of social re-lationships. Specically, he describes how moments of emotionality (either sharedor complementary) are the basic units of social structure that create or afrm fourdifferent types of social relationships: solidary, romantic, charismatic, and tyrannic.However, evocative transactions do not merely display internal sensations; they arereexive acts that inform both self and other and contribute to social order “assurely as do discursive acts” (Couch 1992:150).It is the reexive nature of both emotions and evocative transactions that renderthem temporal. However, the link between temporality and emotion has only beensuggested and needs to be made explicit. Before I describe the connection betweenemotion and temporality, I turn my attention to the literature on time and temporality. TEMPORALITY Most sociological work, even among interactionist studies, has neglected temporalitydespite its “eminently social character” (Flaherty 1987:144). Notable exceptions pertainto how we experience time. After surveying the contributions of William James, G. H.Mead, and Herbert Blumer, as well as the phenomenological writings of Bergson,Husserl, Heidegger, Minowoski, Schutz, and Luckman, Flaherty (1987) notes thatwhen sociologists or philosophers studied time the major emphasis was on how the self understands time passing in the here and now. However, he also argues that the poten-tial promise of their works has gone unfullled and suggests that we can draw severallessons from them. Two are most relevant here: (1) forms and processes of social inter-action are shaped by temporality; and (2) symbolic interactionism and phenomenol-ogy complement each other and should be integrated in our research (pp. 153–54).An example of these two lessons is found in the work of Sharron (1982). Build-  366 Symbolic Interaction Volume 25, Number 3, 2002 ing on the work of Schutz, he focuses on the experiential aspect of temporality anddescribes three dimensions of time, inner time, concert time, and spaced time. Innertime results from one’s physical existence and sensation of passage. This inner pro-cess, existing only in the human mind, ties experiences together and makes themcontinuous. Of course, the importance of inner time is that it is where an individ-ual’s emotions occur. Sharron tells us that inner time is exible and adjustable andthat the specious present is also part of inner time. This means that although I live inthe present, I constantly recall a past and plan the future because my inner time isexible. Flaherty (1999) demonstrates another aspect of this temporal exibility inhis research on how time is experienced. He nds that the experience of inner timemight be either protracted or compressed.Concert time occurs when my inner time is congruent with the inner times of others. Such congruence generates social togetherness. When we interact we incor-porate our inner times into one concert time. Interacting individuals select their rel-evant past experiences in order to produce concert time. For instance, when peoplein an organization agree to meet and share experiences, they do so by aligning theirinner time to a “grand clock” to which all agree to adhere. Concert time is thereforea social product. It is reected in the overall behavior of the group, and it persists aslong as the members of the group act socially.Objects in passage, whether human or made by humans, or nonhumans, form thesubstance of Sharron’s third dimension of time, spaced time. Spaced time helpspeople to develop a sense of order and predictability. It acknowledges the existenceof a social past and future and organizes passage in society (the invention of timezones is a good example).The reexive aspect of emotion is tied to inner time: our reection on emotionsand emotional pasts obviously occurs in inner time, as does our emotion work. Shar-ing emotions, identity work, and evocative transactions all occur in concert time. Ireturn to inner and concert time when I discuss emotions on the individual and inter-actional levels. Both inner time and concert time have relevance for emotional pasts.It is clear that the work done on time and temporality falls mostly under the ru-bric of experiencing time and aligning inner times to produce social objectives. Notas much work has been done to articulate how we use time, but there have been im-portant and interesting leads. Katovich and Couch (1992:26) tell us that althoughinteractionists have recognized that “the past can be a source of unity in thepresent, this view is tempered by the realization that it can also be central to dis-unity and problems associated with everyday encounters.” They continue: “over-looked in discussions of the relevancy of the past as either a process or concretizedsymbol is its importance in establishing the grounds of situated action, or actionstructured by interactors for the purpose of consummating specic transactions.”Katovich and Couch regard social pasts as either shared (reecting the mutual andsimultaneous experience of joint acts that are within restorable reach of interactors)or common (reecting the independent experience of similar joint acts in differentcontexts). The activation of social pasts allows for the mutual location of self and  The Temporality of Emotion 367 other; and when coupled with the establishment of a shared focus, it also allows forthe instantaneous production of consensual anticipations and intentions. Beingsocially situated is a prerequisite for interaction. This activation of social pasts as,Katovich and Couch describe it, implies the use of emotional pasts. I return to thislink in my discussion of emotions on the interactional level.Mead (1932) wrote on temporality, of course, and although he focused primarilyon the present, he had much to say about the past. His basic proposition is that real-ity exists in the present (1932:1). He suggested that we live always in a presentwhose past and whose future are the extensions of the eld within which its under-takings must be carried out (1932:90). Therefore, the present implies a past and afuture. The implication is that the past is such a construction that the reference that is found in it is not toevents having a reality independent of the present which is the seat of reality, butrather to such an interpretation of the present in its conditioning passage as will en-able intelligent conduct to proceed. . . . Our reconstructions of the past vary in theirextensiveness, but they never contemplate the nality of their ndings. (1932:91) Another way of conceiving Mead’s philosophy of the present is to imagine thatour pasts, although based on things that have occurred, are hypothetical in the samemanner in which the future is hypothetical. As Mead (1932:12) stated, “The longand short of it is that the past (or the meaningful structure of the past) is as hypo-thetical as the future.” Pasts and futures obviously differ (our hypotheses about thepast involve memories of things that occurred), but each as a temporal dimension issubject to the same test of validity to which any hypothetical assumption is subject.Further, “anticipating the novelty of every future demands that we create a novelorientation to the past” (1932:31).Expanding on Mead, Maines (2001) points out that aspects of time and durationmust be socially transacted. Accordingly, “[p]asts must be reconstructed and re-garded in the present as some kind of past to be functionally used in the presentwith respect to some kind of imagined future” (2001:38). In this same vein, Maines,Sugrue, and Katovich (1983) and Maines (2001) provide a discussion of Mead’s the-ory of the past and delineate four dimensions of it that are important for my discus-sion of the temporality of emotion.First, the symbolically reconstructed past involves redening the meaning of pastevents in such a way that they have meaning in and utility for the present. Mainesexplains further: Without this conceptualization, the passage of the past into the present wouldresult in the disappearance of the past. . . . The symbolic reconstruction of thepast thus involves redening the meaning of past events in such a way that theyhave meaning in and for the present. This reconstruction is necessary becauseemergent novelty in the present confronts the person with unexpected occur-rences, and the functional character of the reconstructions is contained in itscontribution to present meanings. (2001:44) In other words, what it was is recognized through what it is.