Culture Sketches: Emotions & Emotions

Theories on Emotions from the Social Realm

Emotion X: internal and affects the outside world, the meaning of emotions are intrinsic to a person, assumes that emotions are universal among humans. Feelings are implied and experiences activate them. (R. Rosaldo)

Emotion Y: People are bound within an “emotion” structure, and circumstances within the structure provide the emotion completely, because emotions are created by culture and one’s position within the structure. Thus, emotions are objective! Culture provides the meanings of emotions. (Eberhardt; Scheper – Hughes).

Emotion Z: Emotion is an index of social relationships; the meaning of an emotion lies within that social relationship, which may be inside a person or outside within the culture. Thus, emotions are part of sign-systems, and should be studied through social relationships. Contrasts the “naturalized” and “objective” views of emotion. (Lutz)

Emotions in a Social Perspective

Humans are apt to have emotions no matter where they live; people around the globe will experience what we call and know as happiness, grief, and love. However, the ways people define themselves and handle their emotions according to their ideas about being a living person in a specific environment are not universal. It should be noted also that what provokes emotions is not always universal. Emotions will allow us to look at how people describe and define themselves; moreover, the definitions and descriptions pack layers of social connotations that build over time. Creating meaning is a human characteristic that takes place within the culture process, which extends into how people handle and understand themselves and their emotions.

These emotion theories are excavated from ethnographic work that focused on how people grieved in different cultures. They each provide a possible link to understanding how culture operates and influences human behavior and thoughts in a natural environment. It is important to consider the social development of humans in order to understand how we develop ourselves and adopt behaviors. Cognition takes place in social contexts. Therefore, it is important to pull back the connotative layers and debris that might be ignored otherwise. In respect to emotions, the ethnographic works provide a unique look at emotions in relation to diverse social and physical environments. Emotional expressions are more than just affective responses to stimuli, because people attribute meaning to them. They become social tools that represent human experiences, while providing a medium to study culture’s role within humanity.

Moreover, the ethnographer does not just provide information about a society. The ethnographer also presents his/her perspective. This indirect bias can be manipulated to an advantage, because it channels the personal experiences and Western precepts that ascribe meanings that influence all things forward and backward in the ethnographer’s mind. What an interesting cultural display, but that is the writer’s opinion. Nevertheless, experimental evidence also brings a new element; the support for a looping effect between what occurs in the social and physical world in relation to what lies beneath the skin and skull.

Higher primates are quite interesting in their complexities that appear to share common roots in both their biology and social nature.

Social Emotions

Emotion Z: Go Ifaluk Yourself

Catherine Lutz’s work on emotions and her experiences with the Ifaluk are a wealth of information that moves emotions from mere internal responses and social cages. Lutz presents evidence that demonstrates that emotional expressions and the meanings people affix to them occur in a dynamic process. People rely upon emotions as guides to understanding their own lives and the lives of others. After challenging Western theories and ideologies on the topic, she presents emotions within a perspective that accounts for the cross-culturally differences, problems with translations, and the acute possibility that emotions might or might not be universal. She builds her argument via Western and Ifaluk ideologies.

Emic:The complex emotional experience of everyday life […] are not unmediated psychobiological events; the ‘first construction’ entails their being build out of the raw materials of historically specific social experience, received language categories and speech traditions, and the potentials of the human body, (Lutz 210, 1986)

Lutz’s Emotions:

  1. How people think and talk about their emotions helps order lives
  2. Emotional meaning is a social and cultural achievement
  3. Emotions provide an interpretation of an event, encounter, or relationship
  4. Emotions provide an index of cultural prescribed outlines for thoughts and behavior
  5. Each emotion represents a system of meaning that includes s wealth of information
  6. Emotions are ‘negotiated, ignored, or validated by people in social relationships’
  7. Emotions signify different mental contents, which differs not just with the individual, but also with communities

Emotion Y: Brazilian Angels in back-rooms

Scheper-Hughes challenges Western morals when she describes the impoverished climate that forces Brazilian mothers to abandon their babies to back-rooms, because they simply lack the will to live. Scheper-Hughes found that the Church and community support the mothers’ actions, which Westerners will mark as immoral and infanticide. Nevertheless, Scheper-Hughes draws on her experiences to develop a theory about emotions being related to the socio-political structures that people live within. Moreover, emotions are represented in a manner that designates them as a possible psychological adaptation to social and physical environments. Scheper-Hughes also found that the mothers did experience grief, although most mothers did not display their grieving and sadness in the public sphere. Those emotions were kept in, but when they did surface the community scrutinized the women who dared to show their emotional attachment to a baby angel.

Scheper-Hughes’ Emotions in a Nut-Shell:

  1. Social structures influence people’s behavior, which includes emotions
  2. Emotional meaning is culturally crafted and dependent

Emotion X: Let your sadness slip off a cliff, with his head

R. Rosaldo was perplexed when he attempted to understand why Ilongot men vented their grief through killing. The Ilongot told him that they hunted heads in order to remove their grief. Rosaldo searched for symbolic meaning in their behaviors and explanations. However, he learned that there was no deep meaning attached to their head hunting. It took him a while and an unfortunate event to build his personal understanding of Ilongot male grieving without symbolic frills. What Rosaldo found was rage. His own experience, the tragic loss of his wife, was personal and caused him both rage and grief. With his own encounter with angry grief, Rosaldo defined emotions as subjective, and attributed their internal position as an obstacle for understanding them in a social context.

Rosaldo's Emotions:

  1. The internal occurs then affects the outside world
  2. Emotional meaning is intrinsic to people