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Re: [xmca] about emotions

I am certainly one of those people interested in emotion, or feeling, or affect, or whatever we choose to make of the phenomenon.

The topic seems to have historically accumulated a lot of ideological baggage. And while its expression may be more sophisticated today than in times past, there doesn't seem to be that much less of it (as for example in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy review noted by someone earlier).

Emotion tends to be seen as bad in our philosophical tradition. As the enemy of reason, the motor of self-deception, etc. It links us to the animals, to our "baser" nature, etc. A bit of this in the pagan tradition, a lot of it in christian asceticism, and tons of it in Enlightenment rationalism and its successors.

Emotions are also associated with the unreliable feminine vs. the cool and collected masculine, with the passions of the mob vs. the thoughtful elite, with peasants, workers, and children, and pretty much every social category whose oppression needs some legitimation. Indeed one of the near universal legitimations of elite power is "we know what's good for you", not just because of what we know, but because you can't be trusted to see your own best interests through the haze of your emotions.

Useful as this is to elite interests, it combines further with the cult of individualism to make emotions a purely individual, mental, subjective matter. Non-material, non-social, non-cultural, and universal (the easier to apply the stigma of emotionality to non- European cultures). It is rather hard to crawl out of this pit of mud.

As I've been trying to do for the last year or two. There would be too much to say for a short post on this list, but here are a few basic suggestions:

Feeling is a broad enough category to get back to the phenomenology of affect/emotion, whereas "emotion" is too narrowly defined within the tradition of animal-like and universal.

There are a LOT of different feelings, and that is more important than efforts to identify some small number of basic emotions.

Many feelings are associated with evaluative judgments and this may be a key link to re-unify affective and cognitive.

Feelings do differ significantly across cultures, and are part of a larger system of meanings-and-feelings specific to a community.

You can't make meanings across any longer term process of reasoning without feelings and evaluative judgments.

It is likely that feelings have histories, both in cultures and in individuals.

Feelings are often reliable guides to survival, to adaptive action, and to finding ways to meet our needs.

Feelings are just as situated and distributed as are cognitions. And just as active and actively made and produced.

In short -- pretty much everything in our dominant tradition about emotions and feelings is exactly wrong -- and for the worst possible ideological-political reasons, I believe.


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 Nov 26, 2009, at 8:08 AM, mike cole wrote:

With so much interest in achieving an integrated understanding of emotion, cognition, and development, Achilles, your focus on this topic is a helpful
reminder of its continued importance.

Seems like one of those many areas in psychological research where we cannot
keep from murdering to dissect.
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