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[Sociology of Emotions][What first inspired you to start academic workin the field of sociology of emotions?]
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD: So I was an undergraduate at WesternMichigan, and I was a psychology major.[Seth Abrutyn, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology,University of Memphis] And it was a behavioral psychologyprogram-- so rat labs, and Skinner boxes,and everything was very observable behavior.So I took a course on emotions with them.And for behaviorists, emotions are only thingsthat can be observed-- so like sweat, your muscles tensing up,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: your face getting red.And I'll never forget.I asked a question in my class about the subjective innerexperience, because obviously, anyonewho's ever experienced emotions feels emotions.And their response was not reallywhat I wanted-- that that doesn't exist.The mind is a black box.Well, you fast forward to next semester.I took a sociology of emotions course as my minor,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and it was like a therapy session.There were nine students, and we weren't even readingsociology texts.We were reading self-help books and learningabout how people triangulate, how they over-function,under-function for each other.And it was just such an eye-opening experience,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and I was just drawn to the fact that sociologycould study emotions-- that there was a social side to it.Not just the inner experience-- we didn't deny that part,but we thought about how people actually conditionedthe inner experience, and how we learn to label,and how we learn to think about our emotionsthrough our interactions with others and our relationshipswith others.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And the result of that was just-- itopened up a whole new world for me.I got into social psychology from there,and I got into identity and how emotions connectwith identity-- how our statuses produceemotions, how emotions are unevenlydistributed by status levels.So men tend to have different ways they emote than women--
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: race, by ethnicity, by class.It's really the key, the cornerstone to all sociology.[What other academic areas interest you and why?]So from emotions, I really got into social psychology.And when I was getting my master's degree,that was my area.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: I got into Erving Goffman's work on performance and dramaturgy.And then when I went to Riverside for my PhD,I actually switched.I became a sort of macro-sociologist,and I got into historical comparative research.And I never lost the emotions side.In fact, some of the work I do is on collective traumaand how trauma shapes social movements in history that
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: leads to massive changes in the politicaland the religious world.But then I got into suicide when I got this job at Memphis,and all the old stuff that I was into came back.So I do really like social psychology.I do like emotions, but I've reallybecome a cultural sociologist too,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: like interested in how small communities cancreate these healthy or unhealthy cultures.[What are the key research methods that you employand why?]That's a good question.The research methods I use-- I use any and every method
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: that's available.I try to teach my students, for instance,that theory and methods, they're just tools.So you have to have a toolbox.So when you were hanging a picture on a wall,you wouldn't use a screwdriver.You'd want to have a hammer.And so if you don't have the methods available,you can't ask certain questions.My primary method right now is qualitative.We do ethnographic interviews.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: We do some participant observation.But I'm very comfortable doing comparative research,historical research-- hermeneutics, where you'reactually looking at texts.So, for instance, I will look at the Bible,and I'll take Exodus 31.And you can see different layers that biblical scholars have
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: shown and the time periods that each layer was written.And you can see the groups, and the intereststhat those groups had and why they decided to keep them.So I used that-- used statistics occasionally.It's not my favorite.I'm more of a people person.I like to talk more.So qualitative, for sure.[What new research directions do you find most exciting?]
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: I think the hottest place is probably neurosociology.So sociologists have had an uneasy relationshipwith biologists for a long time for good reasons.In the really old days, in the turn of the century,you had eugenicists and Social Darwinists co-opting sociologyand arguing that race was a biological construct,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and that's why African Americans shouldbe this way and white people should be that way.And so that put a big barrier.But in the last probably 20 years,with fMRIs, and better methods, and techniques,the brain has been opened up to sociologists.And it's not necessary to reduce our emotions, for instance,to how our brain works.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: But rather, we can see how the environment actuallyshapes part of the brain, and how we feel emotions,and how we identify with our emotions,and then how that reciprocates into the social environment.So to me, that's probably the hottest place,is neurosociology.And it's hard, because you have to learn a lot of biology.You have to learn some neurology.And unfortunately, the neuroscience people
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: don't like the sociologists, and the sociologistsdon't like the biologists, typically.And so there's not a lot of interaction.But the people that are doing thatare probably at the cutting edge.The sociologists-- sociology tends to resist biology,because they're afraid of biological reductionism.They fear the idea that there might be something about gender
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: that is biological.It means that it can't be changed.And so a lot of sociology, the projectis activism, just changing the world.And so if we come to a conclusionthat some parts of gender or sexuality are biological,that means we can't change them.And therefore, there's no policy.There's no way to be an activist.And on the other side, the neuroscientists
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: see sociologists as not being scientific at all,and so they question whether or notthere is anything like culture and whether culture matters.And somewhere in the middle is reallywhere the interesting stuff is, because youcan say that there are biological aspects to genderand sexuality.But then you can say that culturecan amplify those things, or it can dampen those things.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And so that's where the change is.Rather than run up against the walland keep hitting your head against it, know the limits,and then work within your limits to improve.My old adviser, Jonathan Turner-- and he's a pessimist,so he always says that there is no hope for sociology.And many in the old guard would saythat the sociological crisis has happened,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and we'll be extinct someday.And if we don't become biologists or neuroscientists,we're going to be extinct.I feel like it will probably just keep going the way it is.There will always be people who dip their toe over there,and come back to sociology, and work with it,and there will always be a receptive audience.And I think sociology is the big tent.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: So I don't know if it will ever change completely,but I don't think it will die out because of that.But it certainly is, I think, some of the most importantplaces to do sociology now.[Where would you like to take your own research?]So my main area right now is suicide,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and adolescent suicide, and suicide clusters.And one of the things that has really bubbled up from the datathat we've been collecting is the problem of shame.And so for me, all the emotions are very interesting.Psychologists tend to over-emphasize sadness emotionsor the cognitive appraisals of them,like depression and hopelessness.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And that's mainly because what they getare the clinical patients.They get the people who have either attempted suicideand failed at it, and end up in a clinical settingwhere people who go seek out clinical help right away.But there are lots and lots of cases where that obviouslydoesn't happen, because the person completes, or theynever, ever get to the point of clinical help,because they've attempted.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And something changes in their lives.And they move on, and they get at least somewhat healthierfrom the situation.And in the research that my colleague, Anna Mueller,and I've been doing, shame has been a dominant themethroughout this.And I really do think that that's the next place.At least, where I want to take my research
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: is to explore shame, to explore how the dynamics of shameworks, how it's different for men and women,because they experience shame differently.Men tend to bypass the shame and turn it into anger.And so homicide-suicides tend to be more prevalent with men,whereas women tend to be engulfed in shame,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and so they don't necessarily label it shame.They typically see the fear of the consequences to their self.They feel sadness-- deep sadness for their self.And then they turn the anger inwards.They blame themselves, rather than other people.And so I think there's a lot to be done there.And most of it's been anecdotal in the literatureor theoretical, and so we actually now have a big data
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: set--a big, qualitative data set with a lot of stuffon emotions, and how people catch the emotions,how the emotions spread, how emotions can motivate suicide,or prevent suicide.[How would you define sociology of emotions to your students?]That's a really hard question.And emotions have been central to sociology
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: since at least Charles Horton Cooley and evenEmile Durkheim's work.Emotions are a part of it.Weber talks about emotions a little bit.How would I define the sociology of emotions?Really, it's the study of the effectually driven sideof social action and how our emotions interact
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: with our thoughts, how our emotions interactwith our behavior, and how the two things go together reallyclosely, and how different societieslabel and emote differently.And therefore, emotions really connect with at the heartof what we do in sociology.I don't know how to define it, and it probably is nota great definition of it.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: But really, what sociology of emotions studiesis the most central aspect to being human, which is feeling,and then how that bleeds into everything else we do.[How do you research emotions?]Yeah.So that is a tough question.How do you research emotions?There are, obviously, the fMRI machines,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and the really hard, hard science--the neuroscience behind it.But there's different strategies.One is obviously survey, where you give people scales and say,how do you feel about this?How do you feel about that?That's, I guess, the most sort of surface level.People use vignettes, where they'lltry and put a person in a situation and then ask them,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: how would they experience that?Or probably the better way to dealwith it is to ask them how a normal person would dealwith it, so people will be more forthright with the answer,rather than thinking about how they would feel it.Participant observation-- some of the really interesting stuffthat I've seen-- people will videotape conversations.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And they'll zoom into the person's face,and connect the face with the words,and watch how people emote micro-emotions, really.I've also seen people do the same type of work,but with dialogue.So they'll put a couple in a roomand give them an issue to talk about-- normallyhot button issues between couples, like money,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: or things like that.And then they'll take snippets of that dialogue-- everything.The uh's, the pauses.And you can watch how people micro-emotein those types of situations.You don't even really need to see their faces,and you can just follow-- that's especiallyrelevant with the anger-shame literature.I think though, in the end, the vignette stuff is probably
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: some of the most interesting work,because you're really trying to make a person takethe role of another person and say, how would youfeel about x or y?Like, let's say, you were insulted.How would you feel about that?Let's say you were disrespected.How would you feel about that?Let's say you got a promotion, and you didn't feelyou deserved that promotion.How would you feel about that?
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And you can get into that type of emotions that way.I imagine that there are people whostudy it more at a macro level.There's all the happiness studies.People are counseling trying to definewhat makes a society happy, and then theyuse that as a measure to find out whether there'smore crime or more of suicide.And I'm a little skeptical about that,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: because happiness is fleeting, and Idon't know how you'd really actually measure it.[How do you measure emotion?]So what is emotion?So in the end of the day, people have a biological reaction.We all emote four basic emotions.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: We all have anger, fear, happiness, and sadness.And we can, obviously, measure thatby testing the muscle responses--the blushing in the face, sweat, things of that nature.And people all around the world recognize happiness facesand sadness faces.Children learn very early, constantly
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: looking at each other.Our motor neurons and our frontal cortexare designed to learn our parent's facial expressionsand how they emote, and then internalize that for ourselves.But then you go from that sort of effectual feeling.And we get into the cultural realmand how people are taught to label those feelings.So one person who feels fear in a situation
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: might label it correctly as fear,but another person might label that as joy.You might get people who seek out-- they're thrill seekers.So one person's sitting on an airplaneready to jump out of the airplane-- isfeeling intense anxiety.Another person sitting in that airplane--they're feeling excitement.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: But we can merge those emotions together.So it's not necessary that they're reallyfeeling happiness They're just identifying the happinessside of the emotion more and downplaying the fear side.And it's really bizarre.So how do you measure that?That's where the measurement problems come in.And that's why the best we can dois ask people and try and collect enough datato get a sense of it.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And so to come back to my research, what you can dois you can take a specific community.And you can look at the communityand ask all of the adolescents that youcan get to interview with.You can ask the young adults.You can ask the parents, the mental health professionalsabout suicide-- about why suicide is so prevalent,about how they feel about the pressure of the schools,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: how they feel about the pressure of the peers,and the athletic programs, and being the best in the dramaclub, and things like that.And this isn't an exact science.But you can get, I guess, what you'dcall a sort of emotion culture and understandhow people are learning to identify those emotions.What's the mode of identification?
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And then you can compare that across other communities.So this community has a suicide problem.This one doesn't.They look exactly the same, in terms of their demographics.Yet, they deal with pressure differently.They emote differently.They label their emotions differently.And so that's the best, I think, you can really do.And that's an interesting story, because anyone
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: can read that story and identify with it, because it's so human.You definitely want to understandwhy people are learning to emote that way,because again, it is a social thing.You have to learn to identify them.You have to learn to understand the rules behind howlong you're allowed to feel that feeling-- when you'reallowed to express it, or when you're supposed to suppress it.And you can get into that whole story of, well,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: what's going on in the community that leads to that?There is a very clear micro-interaction.Two friends that are adolescents interactingare teaching themselves how to read each other's emotions.But there's bigger stories going on.They are just two people within a larger networkof other people in the school within a larger communitythat is reinforcing that emotion-- the emotion
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: rules, the feeling rules, the framing rules, how we actuallydo it.And so the game there then, or the interesting thingthere is, well, for suicide, how do you prevent it?Well, one way is to teach people to feel emotions differently.And that's obviously really hard and complicated.And it's not like I can just say, let's do it this way.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: But you can teach people to at least startto identify the feelings that they're feelingand to rethink how they're expressing them.And so shame-- everybody feels shame.But shame doesn't have to necessarily leadto violence towards others or against oneself.There are healthier ways to deal with shame.We shame each other all the time.We feel shame all the time.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And most of us will never commit violent crimes.[How do you feel ethically about researching adolscents?]Obviously you have to be very careful, especiallyin a community like the one that we're studying,where suicide is very prevalent.But the research shows-- and the CDC also
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: will talk about this quite extensively--that talking about suicide is often very healthy.The question is is how people are talking about it.Two peers or a small group of peerswho are not yet cognitively and emotionally mature talkingabout suicide is a dangerous thing in the sensethat they don't really know how to deal with it.They don't know how to talk about death.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: In fact, most people don't know howto talk about death, no matter how old you get.But at that age, they definitely don'tknow how to talk about death and suicide.But having a researcher come in and notacting like a therapist, being very clear about that,but allowing people to tell their story--how they felt when their friend attempted,or when their friend completed suicide,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: or when their parent attempted or completedsuicide-- they generally walk out feeling better about it.There's always a risk.And what you do is you always provide themwith phone numbers.And at least when I interview people on campusthat are students, we provide themwith one free visit to the student health center.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: But in my experience, we've never had a negative reactionin here, knock on wood.And you just have to be very sensitive to it.And it's hard sometimes, because sometimes, peopletell you some really depressing, sad stories.And you want to reach out, but you can't do that.And then sometimes, people tell you really shocking stories,and you can't-- you've got to have the poker face.You want to say, wow.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: That's really depressing, and sad,and I can't believe you went through that.But you can't do that.You have to let people tell their story on their terms.And in the end, I don't know.I've had more people shake my hand and say, thank you,this was really great, than walk out crying or feeling tearsabout it.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: Again, emotions are at the center of sociology.If you want to understand how people form relationships witheach other, you cannot get away from the fact that emotionssort of undergird everything that makes us human.Chimpanzees are the same way.They pay very, very close attention to face,and so they live in communities of 150 people.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: They don't obviously use language,but they can identify outsiders by their faces.And so we stare at babies' faces when they're really little.And again, our mirror neurons aredesigned to mirror the facial gesturesand the emotions of others.And so we're really in tune with each other's emotions,and so all relationships are built on emotions.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And the interesting thing is whenI told you there's those four primary emotions, three of themare negative-- fear, anger, and sadness, whichmeans that there's only one emotion that you can reallybuild a relationship on that's positive.And so John Turner would tell you,that's where evolution worked to create human societies,was on our ability, like a painter,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: to take those two emotions, or three emotions,and mix them together.So you get awe, for instance.And awe is intense happiness, and then intense fear.It's the feeling of being small in front of somethinglarger than yourself, at the same time,communing with that thing, and feeling happiness.So a person can feel one of those emotionsmore in the situation than the other,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: much like the skydiving example.But in the end, a relationship can be built on happiness.It can be built on fear, like abusive relationships.It can be built on grief.Two people lose somebody, and they get closerin the process of mourning.It can be built on shame.We talk about Catholic and Jewish families
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: as mom's giving guilt and shame.So it can be built on a whole set of emotions.And that will tell you a lot about the biographyof that relationship and the people involved in it,because again, at the very heart of those social relationshipsare emotions.And they can be passed on intergenerationally too.There's some research that's starting to bubble up
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: about intergenerational shame, and how entire communities canpass shame down from one generation to the next.And over time, that can lead to all sortsof pathological social movements like riots and rebellions,because people can only feel shame for so longbefore they will emote outwardly.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And so it really is the heart of sociology.And that's why when we talked in the beginning,we didn't even get to the question.But what's the history of sociology of emotion?It's bizarre that it comes back and then disappears.And that's really more of the story of Western white peoplescience, white male science, is that emotions have always been
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: the opposite of rationality.But the brain science says that no one is rational--that if you have a damaged brain, like if your emotioncenter's damaged, people can't actually make choices.They can't make decisions.They struggle to choose a peanut butter brand.They struggle-- the really simple ones,because all of our decisions are rooted in emotions.All of our relationships are rooted in emotions.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: So it's strange that it's not more important to sociologists,but probably because they're afraid of their emotions.[What is the value in learning about sociology of emotions?How can students benefit from having an understanding of it?]So there's two ways to go.There's the way that I got into sociology.I think that it's just a really interesting way
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: to learn this discipline, is to come to grips with the factthat you're an emotional creatureand everything is emotional.And the DMV causes our emotional reactions,and that leads to feelings that we have about the DMV later.The dentist causes emotional reactions,and that leads us to how we feel about dentists.All of those things are rooted in emotions.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And just the act of talking about themis therapy in and of itself.The other side to it is the side I was talking about,the more intellectual side, is that it reallyis at the core of who we are and how we build relationships.And we can learn more about dyadic conflict
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: between each other by thinking about emotions.And in the moment, in the practical moment,when you start to think about shame, for instance, or anger,and you think about how you treat your partner,for instance, you can actually startto trace the shame that you produce,because we all use shame as a form of social control.And that leads to healing.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: It really does lead to healing whenyou develop a way to talk about it,because that's what we don't do.We don't talk about it.But by talking about it, teaching it in a classleads people to talking about it more.And that's where the sort of practical side of it is.There's the intellectual side.There's the practical side, and there'sthe sociological imagination.There's the discovery of this really cool thing
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: that we all feel.It's easy to see.It's easy to identify.We just haven't been taught to do it.[What is the history of the sociology of emotions?]You have the European side, and of course, the American side.And the European side, probably Emile Durkheimwas the big emotions guy.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And it was weird, because again, white men, especiallyin Europe, saw rationality and emotionsas highly distinct things.It was masculine to be cognitive.It was feminine to be irrational and emotional.But in one of Durkheim's last works,The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, the cornerstoneof his theory-- and it's really interesting
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: that this just speaks to how intuitive he was,because his data was all wrong.He was using Australian Aborigines,and it was second hand data.And it turns out that that data were all wrong.But in any case, he had a theory.His whole research was centered around the question of,what creates social bonds?What integrates groups of people?And he had been trying to solve that problem his whole career.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And he finally ended his career by saying it was emotions.And what it is is that people commune together.And in the act of congregating, their emotionsstart to heighten.Their behavior starts to sync up.And you can see this, for instance,if you go to a coffee shop and watch two peopleas they interact.Their turn taking syncs up.They actually start to become rhythmic with each other.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: So this is not just a religious ritual or a political assembly.It's just two people hanging out.They start to sync up.It heightens.It builds.It builds.Eye contact strengthens.Mutual awareness strengthens.And soon, they create what he calledcollective effervescence, which wasthis sort of bubbling up of emotions to the pointwhere you just feel good.It's like when you go to a concert,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and you really got down in the concert.You walk away from that, and you feel that for several daysafterwards.And our brains-- he didn't realize this,but our brains are designed to try and searchfor the source of emotion.And in the absence of knowing where it came from,you connect it with the group.Or in this case, you might identify it
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: with a supernatural force.And that creates society.Now, you have this moral authority.It's rooted in emotions.Every time you do the ritual again, you feel it again.It's like going on a date.Every time you want to hang out with that person again,you're searching for that effervescent feeling again.And as long as you keep feeling it, it keeps building.So Durkheim had this really wonderful theory.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And when he was translated into the US by Talcott Parsons,Parsons downplayed the emotions sideand emphasized some of his other stuff.And so the emotions side of Durkheimwas lost for several-- probably for about-- so that was 1915.I don't think anybody start talking about Durkheim's work
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: like that 'til Randall Collins startedtalking about it and his interaction with [INAUDIBLE],or maybe Goffman in the '60s.So on the American side though, youhad Charles Horton Cooley, whose big ideawas the looking glass self.And Cooley was very well aware that it's notjust that we learn to identify ourselves and judge ourselvesbased on others' judgments, but also the sentiments that were
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: attached to those judgments.And he actually used the word shame and pride.So pride was telling your child that they're a good little boyor a good little girl.Shame was saying they're a bad boy, a bad girl.And we learn to identify behaviorsand who we are based on other's emotional responses,and we soon learn to emote that way.Now, Cooley's work is really relevant and really important.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: But George Herbert Mead was the big American socialpsychologist and really the big theorist.And he was less interested in emotionsthan he was in symbolic interaction and cognitivestuff.So emotions, again, got tossed out.And Parsons became the looming figure,and quantitative data became the dominant thing.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And this sort of-- I would call it an irrational dichotomybetween the cognitive and emotional sides who'ssort of institutionalized in American sociology.And then, in the '70s, or even after a little bitafter the '60s, with Goffman, peoplediscovered emotions again.And it's really bizarre.It's as if they suddenly were like, oh my god.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: People feel things!And some of this is demographic changes.Women were now in sociology.They had been there for over 10 years.The '60s, really, with the expansionof higher education, the expansion of sociologydepartments, women's liberation movement-- emotionsjust were on the tip of their tongues.And they were like, why aren't my male colleagues
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: studying this?And it changed.The '70s changed everything for sociology.Emotions came back.And in the '80s, they disappeared a little bit.And then in the '90s, with people like John Turner,with Randall Collins, with Arlie Hochschild's work on how peoplemanage their emotions, like emotion work,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: it became more and more mainstream,and it started to spread across the fields.And so now, I would say it's just standard.People rarely study things without at least consideringthe emotional side of it.But as I noted, it's not taught very often,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and there aren't a lot of specialists in emotions.And so it still remains in its weird marginal space,despite the fact that I would sayit's the center of sociology.And a lot of people would say that too.But again, not every research questiondemands to understand emotions, and notevery research area lends itself to the study of emotions.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: But it's always lurking around every corner.All the really interesting organizationalwork when people-- not studying organizations interacting,but when they're studying how people deal with organizations,they're talking about emotion work, emotion labor.Hochschild's work on flight attendants in the '80swas super eye-opening-- that flight attendants were not just
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: managing their emotions, like we all do,but they were managing their customer's emotions, whichwere at that time, were mostly male-- and to the pointwhere they were actually absorbing the negative emotionsand coming away drained every single day.And so that kind of research has expandedinto the idea of energy sinkholes, emotional sinkholes,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and things like that, and how abusedpartners tend to develop defensive strategies.But those defensive strategies seem like they're working.But really, they're a drain with which negative emotionsare constantly flowing in.So that's where some of the real good stuff is happening,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: is the uneven distribution of emotions.But again, I just think that that weird dividebetween cognitive and emotional stuff still lingers.And it's hard to convince people that it's not there.I would always teach my students that it is the center.I teach my theory courses, and emotionsare the theme that ties everything I teach through it.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And by the end, there's this coherent visionthat they see of the world where weare emotional creatures running around doing emotional stuff,and even collective actors have emotions.Social movements literature is all about emotions now,and so groups require emotions to get people to commit to it,and to do things like throw their bodies in front
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: of bullets, or to confront police officers,or to revolt against corrupt states.It requires emotions.States act emotionally sometimes.You can't understand Russia's actions.It's Putin, obviously, but you can't understandRussia's actions without at least thinkingabout the emotional side of this.It's not like he's thinking rationally and calculating
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: perfectly.Or North Korea is another perfect example.I would describe them all by shame.There's a huge shame culture there,and they constantly feel smaller than everybody else,and they're constantly trying to show that they'rebigger than everybody else.It's like a bully mentality.And so, yeah.Emotions is it, but why isn't it studied?[What do you think the future holds for the field
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: of sociology of emotions?]I think the neuroscience is reallywhat's going to change it.I think as the methods become easier to understand,and as more sociologists dip their toes in it enough wherethey can read the findings, even if they're not using fMRIs--because they're so expensive-- I think that that'sgoing to push us further.We're really going to have to come to grips with the fact
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: that our brains are evolved to a certain way to read emotions,that our identities are essentially emotional tagsthat we have.And how you define yourself is based on whatemotions were strongest.What events caused the happiest emotions,or what events caused the scariest emotions.When we talk about who you are, we're
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: really talking about what memories we can call up.And our memories are emotional.And so that's-- you can't get away from the neuroscience.And I think that will open all sorts of interesting avenuesfor how sociologists think about it and how they do their work.[What are the key differences in terms of the developmentof sociology of emotions research across different
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: cultures?]American sociology is like most American stuff.It's very focused, turned inward.We all have those four primary emotions,and so all people feel them.All people express them visually in similar manners.There is debate about how much culture changes things.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: So a lot of people think of Japan, for instance,as a shame culture, where people are performing constantlyto avoid shame.And when they do something-- when they dishonor themselves,for instance, we think of the suicidewhere they throw themselves on a knife,there's still a lot of open questions about this.There's just not a lot of international research
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: being done.People tend not to speak to each other across the borders.I honestly couldn't tell you how important emotions arein say, Southeast Asian sociologyor in African sociology, because it's notpublished in the journals that we're alltrained to read and to worship.And so I would say there probably
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: are important variations, because we aretaught to label it differently.But those variations exist even within a community,like different families based on religious values,based on socioeconomic status, based on race,based on experiences.They're going to emote differently.I came from a New York Jewish family,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: and so anyone who knows New York Jewsknow that the generation that came over herebefore, during the Holocaust, were tagged with this reallycrazy collective trauma.And so there is this sort of shared sense with my mom'sgeneration, the kids that were being born here,
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: of that trauma being passed down,and this sort of suspicion of all non-Jews.And because they lived in these dense communitieswhere they interact with each other,it was reinforced constantly.And the next generation, my generation, and the generationafter me of American Jews, you cansee how it slowly disappears.
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: And eventually, there won't be any Holocaust survivors left,because they'll all have passed away.And how do you retell that story?How does that get passed down?And so even there, you have intergenerational variation.We're talking international variation.But I can even think of just an exampleof how my kid will never really truly be able to identify
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: with his great grandmother.And she probably won't live long enough for himto get old enough to really fully embrace it.So we'll see a movie like Schindler's List.But you've got to see the movie and understand the emotionto really identify the emotion.You can't just-- we can all see it as sad,but it doesn't mean the same thing to us.And that's a good reason-- that's
SETH ABRUTYN, PHD [continued]: another reason for international research.It's actually-- if you were to ask mewhere I think it should go, that would be one place to go,is to start thinking about how we'resimilar and different from other societies, other cultures,other social spaces.
Seth Abruytn Discusses Sociology of Emotions
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Professor Seth Abrutyn discusses sociology of emotions and the work he has done in the field. Sociology of emotions is the study of how emotions interact with our thoughts and behavior. Abruytn discusses research methods, the ethics of researching adolescents, and sociology of emotions across different cultures.
Professor Seth Abrutyn discusses sociology of emotions and the work he has done in the field. Sociology of emotions is the study of how emotions interact with our thoughts and behavior. Abruytn discusses research methods, the ethics of researching adolescents, and sociology of emotions across different cultures.