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RE: [xmca] Inappropriate affect
> I would propose substituting "emotion" for "personality" in the above passage as a way of capturing the nature of emotion as a thoroughly social feature of human experience
This is close to the way I think about it. Emotional responses are forms of engagement, and hence culturally mediated. True, there are physiological and genetic antecedents. But the shape these take in both behavior and experience are culturally responsive in ways that are implicated in one's developing persona.
One would have to concede that reflexive responses associated with the autonomic nervous system are not culturally mediated. All living organisms have such reflexes. If you tap the rat's knee (or whatever) it will jerk as surely as will yours or mine. Now suppose you give a hungry rat food. The rat's response (e.g., eat now, or carry away for later) may be conditioned by a variety of environmental factors (e.g., is this a safe place), so the rat is not acting reflexively when eating. Undoubtedly there are feelings associated with whatever decision the rat makes (a sense of security anticipated with respect to chowing-down back in some favored safe place, versus the visceral pleasure of eating now). But becoming a rat of a certain (social) kind is not among the factors impinging on the decision. We might want to say that the rat has a certain "culinary culture" with respect to its eating decisions. But perhaps "culture" is best reserved for factors that impinge on maintaining or developing a persona.
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Gregory Allan Thompson
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 4:58 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Inappropriate affect
I think there are some very interesting arguments that even supposedly innate drives, such as the drive for hunger or for sex, are culturally mediated. That is, if you consider hunger to be something that is experienced and not just a description of a biological state of an organism.
As an example, it seems possible to imagine two people who have precisely the same biological state of "needing food"
(e.g., both haven't eaten for a week). It seems plausible that one could experience this as "hunger" whereas the other might experience this as "ecstasy" (as in the case of some religious rituals that include severe fasting). You can say that they are both "hungry" if you use a purely biological definition, but "hunger" does not simply describe a biological state of an organism. Rather, "hunger" (as with all emotions) describes an experience of a biological state, and this experience of a biological state is heavily mediated by cultural and social context for its realization.
As another source to consider, in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, in addition to his discussion of hunger (pp.
88-89), Volosinov writes:
“Thus, the personality of the speaker, taken from within, so to speak, turns out to be wholly a product of social interrelations. Not only its outward expression but also its inner experience are social territory. Consequently, the whole route between inner experience (the “expressible”) and its outward objectification (the “utterance”) lies entirely across social territory. When an experience reaches the stage of actualization in a full-fledged utterance, its social orientation acquires added complexity by focusing on the immediate social circumstances of discourse and, above all, upon actual addressees” (p. 90).
I would propose substituting "emotion" for "personality" in the above passage as a way of capturing the nature of emotion as a thoroughly social feature of human experience - as Volosinov's interpreters say "across social territory" (cf.
Peirce's notion of the Self as a "vicinity"). I'd also suggest Volosinov's Freudianism as a good place to look at a more socialized view of what might be our most favorite of the drives - the drive for sex - Enjoy!
Date: Thu, 10 Dec 2009 08:44:20 -0600
Subject: Re: [xmca] Inappropriate affect
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
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I am not stating that culture does not mediate individual emotional responses. My point is that humans have inate drives that include emotions. Hunger is not mediated by culture. How one satiates that hunger can be culturally mediated. How one responds to emotions can be mediated by culture but I do not believe it to be a priori that all emotional responses are culturally mediated.
The Department of Comparative Human Development The University of Chicago
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