I just wanted to point to a possible concern with Scheff's
take on the nature of the human subject. In particular, I
think that there is an important distinction between on the
one hand, Scheff's and Cooley's Looking Glass Theory of the
Self (and this can be traced further back to Adam Smith in his
Theory of Moral Sentiments - and I've heard Scheff talk about
this on another listhost, so I'm not introducing anything new
here), and on the other hand, Hegel's notion of the social
ontology of the subject.
The distinction that I would like to draw between these two
notions of the subject is that Scheff/Cooley/Smith take a
position on the subject that leaves us with an individual that
develops ontogenetically and phylogenetically relatively
autonomously (i.e. presumes a Self that is logically, if not
ontologically, prior to society - to use Mead's language). In
contrast, Hegel's view of the subject is one in which the
subject develops phylogenetically and (arguably)
ontogenetically in dialectic with and through the social.
The LGS does not give us an understanding of the social
constitution of the subject. Rather, it gives us a way of
understanding of how a relatively autonomous individual
behaves with respect to a social surround.
I don't know that this is necessarily the case since I haven't
read enough Smith/Cooley/Scheff, but I think that it is a
potential problem with this approach (and it is one that Marx
pegs on the "Robinsonades" - so again nothing new here).
I'd also mention that on the Society for the Study of Symbolic
Interaction listserve, Scheff was claiming that Cooley and
Mead are two distinct lines. Mead's taking the role of the
other (TRO) is different from Cooley's LGS. Larry, you had
suggested that Scheff was saying that Mead was following
Cooley. I don't think this is Scheff's point, and it conflates
the two positions which I think should be considered
separately (for the above reasons that they are qualitatively
different). As you mention, for Scheff the biggest difference
is that Cooley's LGS takes into account emotion whereas for
Scheff, Mead has no place for emotion. Others on the listserve
noted that Cooley has no place for the mutual alignment of
activity of Self and Other that Mead does. Nor does he
conceive of the development of the Self through interaction
with others (similar to my argument above about Hegel's social
ontology of the subject).
Even though I see these as two separate lines, I have often
wondered about the extent to which there may not have been
some cross fertilization of Smith's LGS and Hegel's social
ontology of the subject in Mead's "I" and "me", and that this
might be the reason why this categorical distinction is such a
muddle. It's a really messy distinction that is
uncharacteristic of a thinker like Mead. But it hasn't
bothered me sufficiently to draw me away from other pursuits
(like finding a job), although talking about it certain does
give me a break from these more mundane pursuits.
P.S. Thanks for this Larry and for the Scheff online link to
his book and webpage. (I was thinking that I had something new
to say re: working with the minutiae of "verbatim transcripts"
in order to make larger claims about the whole and here it is
already written). Really interesting stuff though.
Date: Wed, 09 Dec 2009 20:40:16 -0800
From: Larry Purss <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Inappropriate affect
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
In thinking about the location of emotions and where they are
situated I believe Thomas Scheff's exploration of the power of
the particular emotions of embarrassment, shame, and
humiliation as the foundational "social" emotions adds an
important perspective to the elaboration of the place of
emotion in our theories.
He was a student of Erving Goffman whose elaboration of
Cooley's looking glass self focused on the centrality of
emotions in our development of a social self. Goffman's basic
work "Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" is interpreted by
Scheff as extending and deepening Cooley's idea of the looking
glass self. Scheff points out there are two BASIC components
to the LGS:
1) shared awareness (intersubjectivity, attunement)
2)the emotions that are generated within shared awareness.
Scheff believes it is the RELATION BETWEEN these two
components that can be used to develop fundamental conjectures
about the basis for human conduct.
In extending Cooley's LGS Goffman argued that embarrassment,
shame, and humiliation, had universal, pancultural importance
for social cohesion. For Goffman embarrassment permeates
everyday life and our dealings with others. It informs
ordinary conduct in areas of social life that
institutionalized life does not reach. Embarrassment and shame
arise from a threat to the social bond, no matter how slight.
For Scheff, ATTUNEMENT, the degree of social CONNECTEDNESS, of
accurately taking the viewpoint of the other WITHOUT JUDGING
IT is the KEY component of social bonds.
Scheff (and Cooley & Goffman) believe persons are constantly
aware of their own standing in the eyes of others, implying
almost continuous states of self-conscious social emotions of
embarrassment and shame or the ANTICIPATION of these states.
(and when attunement is mutual, feelings of pride)
Scheff points out that in discussion of topics such as
conflict, sexuality, and honor the emotions of embarrassment
and shame are implicated. Goffman and Scheff analyze the
process of the LGS as a dynamic process with 3 interrelated
1)Imagination of the others' view of self
2)the IMAGINED JUDGEMENT of the other of self
3)the ACTUAL, not imagined FEELING about self that is the
result of steps 1 & 2.
Scheff in elaborating this perspective believes it is almost
impossible for readers to accept his premises because of the
BIASES of Western society when discussing shame and
humiliation. Scheff proposes there is a TABOO on shame in
modern INDUSTRIAL societies. He sees that studies of shame in
social sciences by Cooleey, Freud, Elias, and Goffman, are
Scheff points out when these social emotions are discussed it
is the mildest form of the emotion - embarrassment - (a less
intense form of shame) that breaks the taboo and is let into
discourse. As Scheff states, "Embarrassment is speakable,
shame is UNSPEAKABLE, in ordinary conversation.(Page 9, of
article on web titled "LGS: the Cooley/Goffman Conjecture.
Scheff points out that Mead and Dewey, who followed in
Cooley's footsteps focused on "taking the role of the other"
focus their analysis on behavior, and thoughts of others.
Scheff believed Cooley carried the idea of "taking the role of
the other" further in his looking glass self because he
includes the centrality of emotion in his analysis.
Following is an extended quote from Cooley that captures his
position on social self feeling.
As is the case with other feelings, we do not think much of it
[that is, of social self-feeling] so long as it is moderately
and regularly gratified. Many people of balanced mind and
congenial activity scarcely know that they care what others
think of them, and will deny, perhaps with indignation, that
such care is an important factor in what they are and do. But
this is ILLUSION. If failure or disgrace arrives, if one
suddenly finds that the faces of men [sic] show coldness or
contempt instead of kindliness and deference that he is used
to, he will perceive from the shock, the fear, the sense of
being outcast and helpless, that he was living in the minds of
others without knowing it, just as we daily walk the solid
ground without thinking how it bears us up. (Cooley, 1922)
Scheff when interpreting this passage sees this idea as
profoundly important. He states "intersubjectivity is so
built into our cultural make-up that it will usually be
virtually invisible. It follows from it that we should expect
that not only laypersons but even most social scientists will
avoid explicit consideration of intersubjectivity. Although
human communication is built upon intersubjective accord, it
is learned so early in infancy it goes unmarked in most
I wanted to post this extended summary of Scheff's analysis of
the centrality of the social bond to human conduct and
activity because it draws our attention to concrete moment to
moment particular emotions and therefore moves the discussion
of emotions from a level of generality (emotions) to a
consideration of particular emotions (shame).
Scheff also suggests that this analysis of shame and
humiliation as possibly being key emotions for understanding
the processes of social bonding may be defended against being
acknowledged or as Scheff says UNSPEAKABlE.
The Department of Comparative Human Development
The University of Chicago
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