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Re: [xmca] Emotions and culture

Mabel and Larry focus on what I think is a key issue in understanding emotion. First, that emotions are generated in time, as a process. It is a process in which we ourselves are ACTIVE, and not, as in some folk theories taken over into psychological models, merely reacting to external events and conditions. Second, its genesis takes place over multiple timescales. There is the very short term, moment-to-moment, rise and fall of various feelings, their layering onto one another, the transitions from one to another. Then there is a longer-term tendency, closer to the mood of the "moment" (which is a much longer moment than the first timescale), which may define a trend in the progression of our feelings. And this in turn is coupled more into the situation and setting, who else is there, what is going on, what is the activity and the goals that we are engaged with. Then further, there are still longer term scales, over months or years of our lives, which merge more into social processes and the expectations of the culture and subcultures, the communities we operate within.

I very much like the idea of ethnographic neuroscience, and I wish there were more neuroscientists who did! but they are not trained in this way, and it requires a collaboration at least. It is so much easier for them to study only short-term, isolated, laboratory- controlled events as they appear in their neuro-physiological correlates, which makes sense if they imagine that they are looking at universal processes, which occur in the same way every time.

But of course they don't, and how they appear is very context dependent. At least we know this is the case in terms of how they feel to us, and how they emerge over the shorter and longer timescales of relevance. It would be very interesting to know what is the same and what is different across cases and events, in different situations and settings, for "the same" emotional response. This will, I think, be on the agenda of the neuroscience of a decade or two from now.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Dec 1, 2009, at 1:58 PM, Mabel Encinas wrote:

Hi, Larry and all.

Thank you very much Larry, for having introduced Stern. I am not into psychoanalysis. I am a Gestalt psychotherapist, and maybe because this perspective emphasizes the 'here and now', I realised that I had to discuss the present moment, and the performative making sense of the situation when I faced the challenge to analyse my videos about classroom interaction. Also, I discuss the difference of actions that seem intentionally loaded, with others in which intentionality is quite contestable. My research is based in microanalysis. For being able to study emotions, I decided to study Vygotsy's understanding of emotions. Also I found in this analysis of video (I did not interview neither the teachers or the students about their emotional experience, although I did had long conversations with the teachers), that in order to understand videos, there was important to find 'whole' situations in which emotions were first of all 'evident'. The segments then were from about 1 to 4 minutes long, and I then describe them in depth, including drawings of the interactions. I study this excerpts as developmental in terms of emotions. I already said that the metaphor I use is that I study certain threads without taking them away from the tissue. In my descriptions, I present the richness of the tissue and I relay in the concept of context that weave together (Cole, 1996). I discuss how emotions emerge and impact the situation, and how this impact 'informes' in turn the sense that individuals keep making of the situation instant after instant.

My conclusions are more about the way in which emotions can be studied, and I pose questions to neuroscience, as I see Stern does! I suggest to do 'ethnographic nueroscience'. Stern (2004) says:

" Two kinds of data are needed. First, accurate timing of brain activity correlated with phenomenal experiences. Second, the timing of th analogic shifts in intensity or magnitude of neural firing during the same phenomenal expereinces".

I have to read more about Stern, I would like to understand what are the similarities and differences with Vygotsky's thought, and the usefulness of Stern's contribution. So far, so good :)

Best wishes,


Date: Tue, 1 Dec 2009 12:45:44 -0800
From: lpurss@shaw.ca
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Subject: [xmca] Emotions and culture

Hi everyone
I wanted to look at another level of the discourse on emotions. This is to add to the recognition of the other levels such as institutionally and historically contexts of emotion. This in no way minimizes the critical importance of these levels of process for understanding emotion. But, in the same spirit of discourse analysis which loos at the micro level of conversation I believe we expand our horizon of understanding by exploring the microgenesis of emotions as the interface between biology and culture. I have posted before on the position of Daniel Stern and the moment by moment generation of emotion. Today I want to summarize the thoughts of a DONNEL B. Stern to this discussion in his book "Unformulated Experience"

(p.43)When we talk about content or structure or experience it is not a THING at all, but a PROCESS, one that has CONTINUITY OVER TIME. Some processes have more continuity (organization) some less. We act AS IF these discrete abstractions which our folk psychologhy labels thoughts, memories, feelings, are REAL but they are socially mediated constructions that locates experience in PARTICULAR stable ways. Psychoanalysis is interested in how these processes keep reproducing experience in similar shapes or patterns through interpretive organizing ACTIVITY. Stern discusses a psychoanalyst "ROY SCHAFER" who attempts to translate all psychological events and language games into ACTION LANGUAGE to recognize these psychological events as ACTIVITY. Schafer chooses not to take this approach because communication becomes awkward.

However he does elaborate the processes of REFLECTIVE EXPERIENCE (where we stand back from and observe our phenomicological processes. Folk psychology (common sense) leaves the impression that thoughts and emotions just arrive or leap into existence without the DEVELOPMENT of the thought or emotion. In reality each moment of experience is a process of emergence (MICROGENESIS) a sequence of necessary steps that must occur as experience UNFOLDS. Microgenesis, applied to thought and emotion develops from moment to moment in a process Donnel Stern calls FORMULATIND THE UNFORMULATED. The microgenetic lens emphasizes the developmental life (Dewey's "arc") of each present moment OUT OF the experience of the recently formulated experience. Conscious, explicit, liquistically articulated experience (formulated)emerges from activity (verbal and nonverbal) that took place in the preceding (sociocultural) moments. This emergence of experience INCLUDING THAT PART THAT ARRIVES IN AWARENESS is ORGANIC and CULTURAL and is a continuous dynamic process. Sometimes AFTER THE FACT the way one moment developed from the PREVIOUS one COMES TO OUR ATTENTION but more often it does not. Donnel Stern uses the terms thought and emotion as heuristic devices and stress that he sees these processes as a single process of COGNITION (which for him is emotional-thought or thoughtful- emotion) Cognition is formulated as a process of emergence within sociocultural activity. William Blake's metaphor "seeing the world in a grain of sand" captures the spirit of this inquiry at the microgenetic level. If this is seen as the unit of analysis it posits identity, subjectivity, and self-ing as emergent in moment to moment enactments which become organized into cultural patterns.

I hope this captures the spirit of the relational frame emerging in psychoanalytic discourse. They also are elaborating how the micro, meso, and macro levels of process develop in particulat historical contexts.

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