The Myth: Emotions are Individual

Emotions and feelings are qualities of being human that are generally assumed to be unique to each individual’s physical and mental state and naturally or spontaneously expressed within various contexts. Contrary to this popular assumption, sociologists conceptualize emotion and feeling as social and cultural expressions that are part of the presentation of self. As such, they are subject to feeling rules and strategies of emotion management that are enacted by the self and others in different types of social interaction and social context. Further, within a sociological perspective feeling rules are understood to be differentially followed, and applied, according to social status (i.e., age, gender, sexuality, occupation, social class, ethnicity, etc.) and cultural background.

The Activity

To demonstrate understanding and comprehension of a sociological approach to the analysis of emotion (e.g., sympathy, frustration, happiness, contempt) this exercise asks you to objectively and systematically analyze your own emotional response to content you view on the internet. The type of content you focus on for this exercise should be something quite general, such as news articles or advertisements.

Before setting out to complete the fieldwork component of this activity (i.e., surfing the internet) read: “Arlie Hochschild: The Presentation of Emotion”(pdf in BB). Use the content of the article to develop a conceptual mapping of what you are looking for in order to objectively observe using a sociological perspective, the feeling rules that are operating as you view the selected sites on the internet. A review of the content of Modules 5 and 6 will also be useful at this point.

To select your sites, keep it in the public domain (I do not want to be privy to your private sites) and keep it simple…this is, after all a course in the analysis of everyday social reality, not the extreme, exceptional or bizzare. Select two sites that evoked very different emotional reactions on your part to their content (e.g., like, dislike; sad, happy; etc.). Use your conceptual mapping of Hochschild’s theory of feeling rules to explore how your various social statuses (male, female, parent, offspring, employee, employer, citizen, consumer, client, majority, minority, etc.) corresponding roles and individual experiences may have coalesced to produce your emotional reactions to the selected sites. Not an easy undertaking, I appreciate, but definitely one that you are capable of.

Report your findings using the following format: Communicate your results. Which means: Report on your objective, theory, method, findings and conclusions in two pages or less, plus appendices. For example:

Provide a substantively meaningful title that informs readers of the central topic and focus of your report
State your objective in this research activity? (Hint: Are emotions individual and spontaneous, or socially produced?)
Summarize (in your own words, with appropriate references) the theoretical insights that informed your approach to this research activity. This would involve a brief textual description of your conceptual map which you may attach as an appendix if you choose. (Gives you an extra page to make your argument, as appendices do not count in the page limit, nor do reference pages).
Describe your reasoning/method in choosing internet sites and explain why they were appropriate to fulfilling your objective in the assignment.
Describe what you found as a result of your empirical research.
Discuss what you have learned about the relationship between your emotional reactions to information on the selected sites, your social statuses, roles and individual experiences.
Conclude with a discussion of whether, based on your findings, emotions are individual and spontaneous, or socially produced.
The completed report should be no more than two type written pages, plus references and appendicies.