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Symbolic Interaction

Symbolic Interaction

How does symbolic interaction contribute to a sociological understanding of emotion? First, there are social patterns in emotive experience that catches an irony: moment to moment, the individual is actively negotiating a course of action, but in the long run, all the action seems like passive acquiescence to social convention. The conserving of convention is not a passive business.

Key sociologists in the study of symbolic interaction are:

  • Goffman
  • Mead
  • Freud

Goffman and Symbolic Interaction

Goffman's observations about socially situated interactions can be extended to emotion. People conform not only outwardly, but inwardly (emotionally) as well. Emotion work assumes that the social actor can assess when a feeling is "inappropriate" to a social situation and is able to try to manage that feeling. As social actors we work on feelings. Emotions are dramaturgical, or part of impression management. However Goffman only talks about performances, not how we actively try to shape and change our inner feeling. Hochschild calls this working on feeling, deep acting. Goffman doesn't sufficiently account for social structure, however. What is it that shapes emotion work and creates feeling rules' Social structures (i.e. class, or gender relations).

Mead: Mead did not address emotion specifically, but emotions are a part of the empathic role taking that is central to the creation of self. Mead discussed how individuals learn to anticipate others' reactions and to take these reactions as their own. The individual is not determined by internal or external forces, but is a social actor who exercises agency. Extending this to emotions leads to a view of emotions that are the object of our awareness. Emotions are self-feeling that arise from emotional social acts.

Freud and Symbolic Interaction

Freud: Freud was important to paving the way for emotion work because he looked at inappropriate affect (psychopathology). If there are abnormal ways of expressing and experiencing emotion, then there also must be "normal" ways, and those socially patterned and normatively prescribed ways of feeling are of interest to sociologists. So ? Goffman, Freud and Mead have all contributed to a sociological understanding of emotion, but none have really addressed it. Hochschild asks: how responsive is emotion to deliberate attempts to suppress or evoke it? And, what are the links among social structure, ideology, feeling rules and emotion management?

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