The social experience of bodies and feelings

How do you feel? Bodies and emotions seem like the most basic and essential parts of us. You knew your body before you could talk, and your feelings before you could think. They form the core of you. How can such primal things as bodies and emotions – the greatest markers of who you are as an individual – be influenced by society?

Perhaps a few questions might help answer the question:

  • Do you have a tattoo?
  • Do you wear a dress?
  • Did you have braces?
  • How well do you throw a ball?
  • Do you tell people in your life that you love them regularly?
  • Can you restrain your anger?
  • Are you envious of anyone around you?
  • How happy are you?

Think about your answers to these questions. Were these just simple choices that you made as an individual, or skills you did or didn’t pick up at random? Or did your society shape your answers in predictable ways, based on your sex, age, race, education, wealth, health, and social class background? How has society shaped your body, and the way you display and use it? How has society shaped your feelings, their expression, and how you manage them?

#S327UOW16 #Tut1

Can you imagine society?

Can you imagine society? Some people can’t. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once famously said: “There is no such thing as society.” Do you think this is true? I suspect not, or you wouldn’t be studying sociology. However, it’s not enough just to take the counter position that ‘of course there is a society,’ but then leave this thing ‘society’ unexamined. There is more to understanding society than simply recognising that it exists.

C Wright Mills said in the Sociological Imagination that: “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.” What did he mean by this? The idea of an individual makes sense. You are one. The idea of a society usually makes sense as well. It’s out there, all around you. But the understanding the interaction between the two can be tricky. It takes observation, and consideration – and imagination.

Can you imagine society all around you? The many forms it takes, and the various influences that it has on you? Can you see it operating in the way you interact with your friends and family, the way you study, the way you work, the way you love and care for others, in the very way you see yourself as a particular sex, race, class, nationality, or religion? Are social influences intuitive to you? Are they intuitive to others? If not, why not? And is society different from the other ‘big things’ in life that shape you and so much of what you do with your life – the economy, the political system, our culture. Is it just an amalgam of these things? Or is it more – or something else entirely?

#S103UOW16 #Tut1