[xmca] Emotion at Work

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at umich.edu>
Date: Fri Jul 27 2007 - 14:47:56 PDT

I've written a bit ago on some more general points regarding my
interest in Wolf-Michael's proposal for a more integrated approach to
activity theory which includes a fuller analysis of its
emotional-affective dimensions.

In general, I agree with him that:

Emotion is an essential aspect of action and activity as units of analysis
Emotional states are embodied, and processual-dynamic
Motivation and identity depend on emotional aspects of development
across timescales
There is a dialectical relation of emotion and cognition within
activity/action as units of analysis
Moods can be collective as well as individual
Pursuit of positive valence is ontogenetically primitive

There are some additional points on which I may misunderstand him, or
disagree somewhat:

Emotion's role should not be limited to only the level of operations,
unconscious/embodied; it figures, in different ways, at all scales of

I think it may be too narrow a view to situate the locus of effect of
emotions, even in Damasio's sense, with operations alone. I think
there is a heterarchy operating here. We perform actions out of
emotional needs or motivational drives where there can be a mix of
goals, purposes, or functions: at the level of purely 'doing it
because it feels good", and doing it in the service of some more
distal goal or as part of some larger action, including as part of a
social-collective "activity" in the more strict sense of Leontiev.
All at once! The neat hierarchy of operations, actions, and
activities is cross-cut by feelings, which may provide as much basis
for unifying them or integrating them, as do rational goals. So much
of our activity, so many actions, are done both for their own sake
(including for how they feel to us) and for some longer-term effect.
And what our longer-term goals are depend on both the emotions of the
moment and on longer timescale moods, and dispositions. This does
include certainly collective analogues of emotion, as so obviously in
the case of the moods of crowds and mobs, and perhaps less obviously
the moods of the electorate or public. At institutional scales we
have notions like "morale" and "climate" or "atmosphere" to name such

So I want us to keep open the notion that feeling and affect operate
at and across multiple scales, timescales from surges of short-term
feeling to long-term moods and dispositions; ecological scales, from
sub-organismic systems to full-body consciousness feelings to
collective emotions (and perhaps, following Latour, to the analogue
of emotions or an affective dimension for networks combining humans
and nonhumans); and functional scales, from operations, through
actions, to activities (and perhaps to still higher functional scales
in ecosocial networks).

Let me end with my own current proposal for terminology, meant mainly
as a checklist to avoid forgetting important aspects. I like
'emotion' as a name for the motivating, impelling-to-action aspect of
body-mind system processes. I'll keep 'feeling' for the felt-sense,
phenomenological body-sense that gets culturally and semiotically
interpreted, and entrained, as "affect". (Note that this is NOT
Damasio's usage, deliberately.) We may need more than this, with
additional notions to specify timescales (surges, feelings, moods,
dispositions/emotional habitus) and still more for ecological or
functional scales. I don't care about the words, but about addressing
the complexity here. You might find it an interesting exercise to
make a list of all the words in English, or your favorite language,
that name different 'emotions', along with all the terms that can
follow expressions like "I feel ...." and "It feels ...". Doing so is
salutary, humbling, and challenging for moving ahead with this
important area of inquiry, as Wolf-Michael proposes.


Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Email. JayLemke@UMich.edu
Website. <http://www.umich.edu/~jaylemke%A0>www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
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Received on Fri Jul 27 14:52 PDT 2007

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