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Luhmann and the Sociology of Emotions

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In this scientific talk I shall address a marginal topic in Luhmann’s work: that of emotions. Several authors have criticised not only the secondary role emotions play in Luhmann’s theory, but also his out of date (and flawed) description of emotions, since they are undifferentiated visceral activations of the organic system and processed latter by the psychic system (and latter by the social system), or they are collapsed in the symbiotic mechanisms that coordinate the relation between human bodies and social systems. My aim here is to review some elements established in the scientific literature of emotions, so we can go beyond the vague and narrow description of emotions present in Luhmann’s account, although I shall be faithful to his broader theoretical commitments. My proposal is that emotions can be understood as an instance of structural coupling among organic, psychic and social systems. Specifically, I maintain that emotions represent a threshold domain in which the normative expectations of social systems are bundled together with states of consciousness, in the form of beliefs that affirm individuals are entitled to have the right emotion in some interaction system, and the consequent bodily processes. To advance my proposal, I will focus on some of emotions and their relation to moral and legal norms. I will also tackle one of the most important body substrata of emotions: the human face.

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Luhmann and the Sociology of Emotions

  1. 1. Seminar Niklas Luhmann: 30 años de Sistemas Sociales Luhmann and the Sociology of Emotions Mauricio Salgado PhD m.salgado@unab.c l Santiago – November 2014
  2. 2. Luhmann’s Social Systems Is Luhmann’s systems theory alexithymic? Alexithymia describes a series of psycho-behavioural characteristics that are expressed in the etymology of the word itself: from the Greek a- (lack), lexis- (word) and thymos- (mood, feeling or emotion), alexithymia means literally “without words for emotions”. The main characteristics of alexithymia can be summarized (…) as: difficulty in identifying and describing feelings; difficulty in distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal (…); constricted imaginative processes (…); and an externally oriented cognitive style. 2
  3. 3. This Presentation 3 My main point There are two different thesis in Luhmann’s account of emotions a. Emotions are tied to expectations  Uncontroversial and partially correct b. Emotions are homogeneous and internal to psychic life  Controversial and flawed Emotions threshold phenomena among cognition, society and biology: Co-evolution From cognitive to social systems: Beliefs  Emotions  Action From social to organic systems: Social evolution  Emotions  Facial expression
  4. 4. Emotions in Social Systems 4
  5. 5. Emotions in Social Systems Emotions represent “a sphere of problems that until now have proved quite difficult for sociology” (1995, p. 274) 5
  6. 6. Emotions in Social Systems 1. Emotions are understood in the process of adaptation to fulfilment or disappointment of claims by the psychic system 2. Claims are a sub-category of expectation, the former being the form in which a system brings the indeterminable environment into a form that can be used operatively 3. A claim is a condensed form of expectation in which self-commitment is increased, and with it vulnerability 4. Emotions function as immune system: Emotions are concerned with grasping-as-signal the noise that would otherwise disrupt the ongoing operations of the psychic system 6 First (uncontroversial) thesis: Emotions are tied to expectations First corollary: Emotions are tied to second order expectations In some system of interaction X, when disappointment happens, Alter is entitled by Ego to experience the right emotion A (and not other emotion)
  7. 7. Emotions in Social Systems Second (controversial) thesis: Emotions are unitary and internal activations 1. “Emotions are not representations that refer to the environment but internal adaptations to internal problem situations in the psychic system that concern the ongoing production of the system’s elements by the system’s elements” (1995, p. 274) 2. Only the cognitive system draws the meaningful distinctions that supposedly give rise to or individuate particular emotions in their specificity 3. “The well-known variety of distinct emotions comes about only secondarily, only through cognitive and linguistic interpretation” (1995, p. 275) 7 Second (flawed) corollary: Emotions are, fundamentally, all the Isnasmomee system of interaction X, when disappointment happens, emotions as different as joy and rage are in fact identical but for different appraisals laid on the same arousal Third (flawed) corollary: Emotions are epiphenomenal Emotions are residual, accidental elements in the social order
  8. 8. Emotions are not homogeneous Anger, Cartesian indignation, guilt, resentment, gratitude 8 Emotions can be triggered by beliefs about actions Emotions can be triggered by beliefs about character Hatred, contempt, shame Emotions can be based on interactions Anger, resentment Emotions can be based on comparisons Envy
  9. 9. Emotions are not homogeneous Hypothesis 1. Core disgust and socio-moral disgust elicit different emotions 2. Time as well as gender are likely to differentially affect their intensity (via a greater reliance of socio-moral disgust on cognitive appraisal) Experimental Procedure Participants were shown photographs of core and socio-moral disgust elicitors and asked to provide a wide ranging rating of their emotional response to each at 3 time points Results • Each elicitor generated a significantly different emotional response. • The disgust response to core elicitors weakened over time whereas socio-moral responses intensified. • Males and females showed similar levels of disgust to socio-moral elicitors, but females showed higher levels to core elicitors. 9 Is Disgust a Homogeneous Emotion? (Simpson et al., 2006, M&E)
  10. 10. COGNITION SOCIETY EMOTIONS BIOLOGY 10 Emotions as Structural Coupling Beliefs  Emotions  Action Social Evolution  Emotions  Facial Features
  11. 11. From Cognitive to Social Systems 11
  12. 12. Emotions and Social Action Beliefs can generate emotions that have consequences for behaviour 12 Beliefs  Emotions  Action [ Ego ] [ Alter ]
  13. 13. Emotions and Social Action 13 Claim that I have to be treated fairly [ Alter ] [ Ego ] Ego’s Belief: Anger Alter imposed an unjust harm on Ego Ego’s Emotion: Ego feels anger towards Alter Ego’s Action Tendency: Cause the object of the emotion to suffer
  14. 14. Emotions and Social Action Cartesian Indignation 14 Claim that others have to be treated fairly [ Alter ] [ Ego ] Witness’ Belief: Alter imposed an unjust harm on Ego in the presence of some witness Witness’ Emotion: Witness feels ‘Cartesian indignation’ towards Alter Witness’ Action Tendency: Cause the object of the emotion to suffer [ Witness ]
  15. 15. Emotions and Social Action 15 Claim that others have to be treated fairly [ Ego ] Ego’s Belief: Pity Alter has suffered unmerited distress Ego’s Emotion: Ego feels pity towards Alter Ego’s Action Tendency: Console or alleviate the distress of Alter [ Alter ]
  16. 16. Emotions and Social Action 16 Claim that we have to comply with some obligation or standard [ Alter ] [ Ego ] Ego’s Belief: Alter has violated some moral boundary Ego’s Emotion: Ego feels disgust towards Alter Ego’s Action Tendency: Ostracised; avoid Disgust
  17. 17. Emotions and Social Action 17 Claim that we have to comply with some obligation or standard [ Alter ] [ Ego ] Ego’s Belief: Alter is weak or inferior Ego’s Emotion: Ego feels contempt towards Alter Ego’s Action Tendency: Ostracised; avoid Contempt
  18. 18. Emotions and Social Action 18 Claim that we have to comply with some obligation or standard [ Alter ] [ Ego ] Alter’s Belief: Shame Ego feels contempt towards Alter Alter’s Emotion: Alter feels shame Alter’s Action Tendency: Run away; disappear; commit suicide
  19. 19. Emotions and Social Action 19 Claim that we have to comply with some obligation or standard [ Alter ] [ Ego ] Alter’s Belief: Guilt Alter has behaved unjustly or immorally Alter’s Emotion: Alter feels guilt Alter’s Action Tendency: Confess; make repairs; hurt oneself
  20. 20. Emotions and Norms 20 Emotions can generate proto-rights Ego Alter Good Wrong Guilt Shame Self-humiliation Contempt Disgust Cartesian indignation Forgiveness Satisfaction Pride Contentment Gratitude Recognition Cartesian love
  21. 21. Emotions and Contingency 21
  22. 22. Emotions and Contingency 22 Axiom: In the social world, everything is neither necessary nor impossible “Every complex state of affairs is based on a selection of relations among its elements, which it uses to constitute and maintain itself. The selection positions and qualifies the elements, although other relations would have been possible. We borrow the tradition-laden term ‘contingency’ to designate this ‘also being possible otherwise’. It alludes, too, to the possibility of failing to achieve the best possible formation” Niklas Luhmann, Social Sistems, p. 25
  23. 23. Emotions and Contingency 23 First corollary: Emotions are tied to second order expectations In some system of interaction X, when disappointment happens, Alter is entitled by Ego to experience the right emotion A (and not other emotion) Restriction Since second order expectations can also be disappointed, then the First corollary has to be qualified. Thus, First corollary (qualified): Emotions are tied to second order expectations In some system of interaction X, when disappointment happens, despite Alter being entitled by Ego to experience the right emotion A, Alter can indeed experience a different emotion or no emotion at all.
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  27. 27. Emotions and Contingency 27 Social factors that might erode or qualify emotional responses 1. Childhood emotional neglect or maltreatment 2. Obedience to authority 3. Ideology 4. Different moral intuitions / foundations: Harm, Fairness, Ingroup, Authority, Purity 5. In-group / out-group relationships – Parochial Altruism Biological factors that might erode emotional responses 1. Psychopaths: Low affective empathy 2. Autism: Low cognitive empathy 3. Genes, hormones, brain damage
  28. 28. Emotions and Contingency 28 Meta-emotions (disappointments of disappointments): Awkwardness • Infidelity: Feeling pride instead of shame or regret • Institutional cruelty against others: Feeling satisfaction or no emotion instead of pity or Cartesian indignation Emotional Divergences and Social Conflict • Intimacy: Satisfaction vs. Envy • Same sex-marriage: Contempt vs. Recognition • Authenticity: Communicate the right emotion
  29. 29. From Social to Organic Systems 29
  30. 30. 30 Faces and Emotions Ashamed Angry Jealous Thankful
  31. 31. Faces and Emotions 31 High variance among facial features in humans 1. Faces evolved in favor of helping us distinguish among individuals 2. Stretches of DNA associated with facial features are more diverse than the overall genome 3. Evidence of selective pressure at the genetic level Gene-Culture Co-evolution 1. Social cognition: an ability to distinguish identity and glean information from faces 2. Facial features very important in person perception – Salient in first impressions 3. People automatically evaluate faces on trait dimensions: Righteousness and Dominance 4. Social evolution may have changed the very shape of our faces
  32. 32. Faces and Emotions 32 “(…) an affect like shame recruits the sensitivities of a face engorged with the blood of a blush. The face of the human being, as Darwin (1872) made clear, is a hyper-sensitive and finely muscled surface, developed through evolution and recruited to the task of the experience and expression of affects.” Stenner 2004, p. 170
  33. 33. Concluding Remarks 33
  34. 34. Concluding Remarks 34 My main point There are two different thesis in Luhmann’s account of emotions a. Emotions are tied to expectations b. Emotions are homogeneous and internal to psychic life Regarding the second thesis, Luhmann’s sociology is alexithymic. What is the treatment to this theoretical condition? Put the second thesis in the garbage bin! This allows Luhmann’s theory to be in contact with the best available science of emotions What does Luhmann’s sociology of emotions has to say about ‘positive emotions’ (gratitude, satisfaction, pride)?
  35. 35. Seminar Niklas Luhmann: 30 años de Sistemas Sociales Luhmann and the Sociology of Emotions Mauricio Salgado PhD m.salgado@unab.c l Santiago – November 2014

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