And here is another of my recent articles you might be interested in:
“The sociology of emotions: A meta-reflexive review of a theoretical tradition in flux”
And here is another of my recent articles you might be interested in:
“The sociology of emotions: A meta-reflexive review of a theoretical tradition in flux”
You might be interested in this new article:
“Indigenous children’s multimodal communication of emotions through visual imagery”
Hi all, you might be interested in the following link to my work on loneliness and men’s emotions for UOW’s ‘The Stand’:
How do you know if you’re a boy or girl, straight or gay, or something else altogether? Is it just obvious biology, something you’ve always known instinctively? Or is it something you’ve learned? What about your sexuality? Or what about your image of yourself as a sexual person?
While conventional perspectives focus on a hetero-normative image of men and women accompanied by prescribed male and female behaviours, and other perspectives gave range to a number of alternative conceptions – gay, lesbian, queer, transgender etc – the origins and repercussions of our sex, gender and sexuality are contested.
Some say that sexuality is fluid and eroticism is plastic, changing over the life course and in different contexts. Others point out that ‘obvious biological’ parts of our existence – our bodies – are increasingly altered to confirm to socially derived gendered stereotypes. Many women continue to alter themselves in ways ranging ‘beach ready body’ dieting to labiaplasty in pursuit of the perfect female form. Similarly, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, and sales of protein enhancement and grooming products are steadily increasing amongst men.
What do you think? How much of our sex, gender and sexuality is innate and biological, and how much is environmental and social?
Who doesn’t want to be happy? The last few decades have seen a great rise in the pursuit of happiness. Not the Aristotelian pursuit of a virtuous, well rounded emotional life, nor the Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness through liberty as an ‘inalienable right’, nor even the Utilitarian pursuit of happiness as the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’. Rather, there has been a surge of interest in measuring and planning for the happiness of nations. The OECD now tracks wellbeing measures across countries, Bhutan has pioneered in interest in Gross National Happiness (GNH) over GDP as a measure of societal progress, and the UK is interested in finding ‘happy places’ by measuring wellbeing and happiness by geographic location. Happiness is clearly now an important measure of social progress.
And yet happiness is still largely individualised as an emotion. Despite studies by world happiness experts like Ruut Veenhoven showing that happiness is clearly linked to social structural conditions in that it varies substantially across rich, poor and unequal nations, the treatments for happiness are still largely individualised. Medication and therapy – including mass therapy, or a societal/national foci on promoting mindfulness, positive psychology and CBT – are put forward as the means for resolving unhappiness, even when changes in economic and work conditions, family, gender, ethnic, and age structures, and urban and social connection may be the primary culprits in causing unhappiness. Can the proliferation of lists on how to be happy in 5, 7, 13, or 25 ‘science-backed’ easy (and obviously non-contradictory …) steps really compensate for broader social change?
And what about other emotions? How much of our unhappiness is about rising anxiety, depression, stress and anger? How much of our happiness depends on peace, contentment and love? And how much does our happiness – in all its related emotional forms – depend on what we are doing, rather than how we might sum up our lives on a 0 to 10 scale of satisfaction? In previous research, my colleague Kimberly Fisher and I found (unexpectedly) that Americans would enjoy their time less if they lived like Australians, because they would spend more time doing unpleasant things like housework, and less time doing fun things like having people over for dinner. We also found that the GFC seemed to have the effect of helping Americans re-evaluate the quality of their time, and enjoy the grind of work less and the pleasantness of social and family time more. Clearly, reflecting on and adjusting the social circumstances and lives that make us happy is an important element of our actual happiness. Mary Holmes calls this emotional reflexivity, or “an embodied, cognitive and relational process in which social actors have feelings about and try to understand and alter their lives in relation to their social and natural environment and to others.”
I say – as I always do with regards to all matters sociological – that structure and agency go hand in hand in the consideration of our happiness. We can change the world – and we can change ourselves – one emotion at a time, with reflection and awareness. I say that we need to be reflexive about what makes us happy (how society affects us), what makes others happy (how we affect society), if there are contradictions and inequalities in happiness, and when it is appropriate to be, show, or change our happiness, unhappiness, or other emotions – rather than assuming we should always try and be simply happy as a default for living. If we can do these things, I think we can start to really understand what it means to be happy in today’s society, and to understand and build truly happy societies.
What do you think?
Good to see popular interest in and understanding of Emotional Labour is on the rise – see this recent article in the Guardian about how ‘Women are just better at this stuff’: is emotional labor feminism’s next frontier?
Stay tuned for results from my recent Survey of Emotions and Emotion Management – part of the 2015-16 Australian Social Attitudes Survey.
Hi guys. Just want to post up a clip to a presentation I did a while back on the need for a National Emotion Management Survey – based on results I got from a pilot survey on emotional management amongst UOW students:
An article by Jean Hannah Edelstein featured in the Sydney Morning Herald today opens with the line ‘Loneliness kills’. She is referring primarily to women. Edelstein draws on literature compiled by Judith Shulevitz in the New Republic, and suggests that women experience loneliness more deeply than men.
Edelstien then goes on to discuss the implications and the strategies many women undertake to ensure that they don’t lead lonely lives. She reflects on how important it is for women to have friends, a supportive community, a life partner, and love.
Central to her argument is the belief that women (unlike men) draw much of their sense of personal self-worth and value from the relationships in their lives, and it is the loss of these supportive and affirming relations that induces the worst experiences of severe loneliness.
Some might take this as somewhat disempowering of women. It might be interpreted as saying that women’s happiness depends on others, whereas men can derive satisfaction from some innate sense of confidence and self-worth associated with their achievements at work, sport, civic life, just being a man etc.
I would suggest, however, that where loneliness is concerned, humanity trumps gender. The need for human connection vaunted by Edelstein is as prevalent amongst men as women. This is, in fact, the line taken in most of Schulevitz’s article. Loneliness is associated with a host of not only mental but also physical illnesses, for men as much as women. There is no gender distinction made in the literature she reviews; Schulevitz in fact makes only the briefest mention of gender in her article, noting that ‘studies’ (unreferenced, and from unspecified countries and times) suggest that women are lonelier than men, with the exception of single women and men.
In Australia, this is not the case. Analysis of the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes by Adrian Franklin from the University of Tasmania shows that men endure loneliness as a serious problem for longer periods than women, are less able to deal with loneliness, and that loneliness is particularly serious amongst separated men.
My own work analyzing various Australian national surveys shows that older men report less social support and social contact, while separated men experience less social support, are less likely to have friends to confide in, and feel less likely to have say in family members compared to partnered men, and either partnered or separated women.
Australian men also spend less time in social contact with friends and family outside the household, and it is time-pressured, partnered fathers who spend the least time in this activity.
It is possible that men simply prefer less social contact, and that this doesn’t translate to more loneliness. However, a unique survey run by the Social Policy Research Centre asked Australians not only whether they lacked social contact, but also whether they thought social contact was ‘essential’ for most Australians. Analysis of this survey shows that Australian men were less likely to have social contact that even they themselves said was ‘essential’.
The upshot of all this is that, in Australia at least, while women might experience the feeling of loneliness more deeply then men, men experience the consequences of loneliness more often than women in terms of reduced contact and isolation. This is the classic distinction made by MIT’s Robert Weiss between ‘social’ and ‘emotional’ loneliness – men experience it even if they do not always show that they are feeling lonely.
A final issue is that Edelstien’s claim on the deeper experience of women’s loneliness may also reflect cultural and gender differences in the expression of emotions such as loneliness. Men may just not feel comfortable showing their loneliness, and may feel bound by social rules preventing them seeking our social contact, support and friendship in the same way as women. The evidence showing greater lack of social connection and social loneliness amongst Australian males is clear and disconcerting, and shows that the loneliness question is not confined to one gender.
Loneliness kills men and women alike.
As the 2013 Australian Federal election draws nearer, the emotional rhetoric on the failings of one politician or another intensifies. Julia Gillard is warning the country against the Rise of the Abortionists in Blue Ties, while former Labor leader Mark Latham is describing Kevin Rudd as living in a whole new ‘realm of evil‘.
Meanwhile, having successfully wound up his opponents in a little ball of panic and fury, Tony Abbott luxuriates in being able to tone down his normal hubris to appear more rational and statesmanlike. He can take comfortable from the knowledge that Labor will do the job of attacking each other for him. Let us not forget his previous chestnuts however, including such choice phrases as “Gillard won’t lie down and die”, “Climate change is absolute crap” , “Bad bosses, like bad fathers and husbands, should be tolerated because they do more good than harm”, and “Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia”.
(Let us not entertain the outbursts of Barnaby Joyce or Chris Pyne, in a similar vein but of greater magnitude).
Amongst all this fog of heated, emotional exchange, careful and critical debate over policy is lost, and the many untruths propagated by the Coalition on climate change, asylum seekers, and national debt go bizarrely unchallenged. Is this simple Labor dysfunction and implosion? Does no one listen to the Greens? Or does this speak to more subtle forms of emotional manipulation on the part of the Coalition and its political advisors?
I thought it might be useful to look at what some of the social and political research has to say about the manipulation of emotions for political purposes. Here are a few examples of how emotions and politics can interact, and a few thoughts I’ve had on how they might do so in this election:
As Alan Jones said, “Maintain the rage” …
In response to yet another report finding that the evidence overwhelmingly links climate change to human activity, those of us who accept scientific evidence can take some comfort from the Australian government’s establishment of a trading scheme to try and reduce emissions. This scheme is not a traditional ‘darling of the left’; as noted by Ross Garnaut, it follows the lead of almost every other country taking action to reduce emissions in using market-based mechanisms to set the most efficient price on carbon. This constitutes a distinctly ‘small government’, non-regulatory approach with neo-liberal elements, designed to address a problem often described as a ‘market failure’. Ostensibly (and politics aside), it is hard to see why a party that professes to support rational, evidence based decision-making steeped in the ideology of markets – such as the Liberal National Coalition – would be against such a policy. Indeed, the Howard Government went to the 2007 election promising to introduce an emissions-trading scheme.
And yet, the fury of the Coalition’s objections to climate change is of a bewildering intensity. The Coalition aggressively opposes Labor’s neo-liberal trading scheme, and has a history of its prominent figures – including Tony Abbott – publicly challenging the evidence on climate change. Much of their vitriol is reserved not for the policy itself, however, but for the policy-makers. The Coalition has used every kind of hyperbole in attacking the trustworthiness of the ALP on issues of taxation and budget responsibility in relation to climate change. It is doubly ironic that the Coalition’s preferred ‘direct action’ plan has been condemned by environmental groups and conservative economists as inefficient and costly, and yet the traction gained from the emotional sloganeering about ‘Labor’s mismanagement and lies’ on climate change are likely to win the next election for the Coalition.
So how did the agenda shift from evidence-based decision making to ‘slanging matches on lies and taxes’? Discourse analyses of Hansard records of parliamentary debates on climate change at the time of the introduction of the Labor governments’ emissions trading policy is telling. Analysis shows that debates on climate change are dominated by emotional accusations of shameful behavior, and angry denials and counterclaims. Such debates exhibit the dynamics of what University of California Sociologist Thomas Scheff calls ‘rage-shame cycles,’ where downward, negative spirals of emotion and personal insults replace reasoned dialogue about the evidence behind an issue.
However, the analysis suggests that this is a deliberately evoked (rather than a natural or random) phenomenon, largely at the instigation of the Coalition. Accusations of Prime Minister Gillard’s “lie”, “breach of the democratic process”, “damage to her reputation”, and “disappointing” behaviour are repeatedly introduced and rehashed in the debate. These exchanges from the second reading of the series of Clean Energy Bills (2011) demonstrate the Coalition’s great discipline in avoiding any discussion of climate change evidence whilst repeating the mantra about the Prime Minister’s ‘lies’:
“The majority consensus statements of our climate scientists have been ignored or belittled by members of the opposition and the opposition leader himself.” (Garrett, ALP)
“There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead. That is what the Prime Minister assured this country just six days before the last federal election … ” (Christensen, Liberal Party).
“The advice from the world scientific community is very straight forward: global temperatures are rising and the cause is carbon pollution ….” (Elliot, ALP)
“The Australian public have been misled time and time again … the position of Prime Minister in Australia has been tarnished. Irreparable damage has been done.” (Haase, Liberal Party).
As the debates draw on in 2012, the Coalition succeeds in ‘goading’ the ALP into angry retaliation. Notable exchanges include Mark Dreyfus making what becomes a typical attack on the Coalition’s ‘backward views’, ‘shameless deceit’, and ‘false claims,’ and Barnaby Joyce and the normally implacable Penny Wong engaging in a heated furore about ‘having a bad day at the office’ versus ‘being a tough guy’.
I would argue that the Coalition’s persistent inducement of shame and anger towards the ALP normalises the use of personal attacks and moralising claims, where the need to retaliate comes to dominate reasoned public debate. This diverts public attention away from the ‘inconvenient’ evidence on climate-change towards the emotional drama of politics, which benefits the Coalition politically in several ways. First, it undermines any credibility that the Labor Government might draw from acting on the evidence on climate change. Second, it undermines the Government’s credibility as a calm, reasoned and ‘statesmanlike’ manager of the country. Third, it marks a revival in conservative pride and anger, and provides a cathartic release from the ‘shame’ of being the ignorant party that ‘didn’t get’ climate change, serving to unify the conservative base in opposition to progressive climate change polices.
The result is an ethically questionable practice of distortion of evidence and public opinion, and poorer policy outcomes. It is also a poor result for Labor. There is nothing inevitable about anger, shame and personal attacks in politics. The manipulation of such phenomena by one party relies on the other side taking the bait. There are a number of good reasons as to why Labor should fight the upcoming election on climate change, but they should do so in a proactive and rational, rather than reactive and emotional manner. It is disheartening to think that the ALP is likely to suffer an election-loss tomorrow for being ‘suckered’ into a fight they might not have had today.