Deep Stories, Emotional Agendas and Politics By Arlie Hochschild

hochschild esa

I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the 12th European Sociological Association Conference in Prague last August, where Prof. Arlie Hochschild (Berkeley) gave one of the plenaries at the opening of the event.

I really enjoyed the paper then, and a video of the plenary has been uploaded to the ESA website here.

The talk reflects, and reflects on, Hochschild’s recent interest in the connections between emotions and politics, and especially political persuasion, which intersect with my own ongoing interest in the linkages between emotions and power, and my new project on (what I am calling) the ’emotional state’. The talk here emerges from her recent work in the American South (especially Louisiana), and the interviews she conducted with members of the right there.

In the presentation, while of course foregrounding emotions and emotion management (to which literature in the sociology of emotions Hochschild has already made substantial, indeed, seminal, contributions to), she introduces a new concept of ‘deep stories’. These are  allegorical, collective and honour-focused stories that, she suggests, lie behind the growth of the right (especially the Tea Party) in the US (and presumably in Europe too). These stories and the emotional logic behind them, will help us to better understand the contemporary political polarization that is emerging in tandem with the increase in social inequality. They will also help us  to understand what it feels like to be a ‘Mary Beth’, and, rather than retreating to our own ideological silos, that we might be able to understand them, and each other, a bit better. It might also help to reaffirm the role of ‘honour’ in social and political processes. The social importance and explanatory value of a political sociology of emotions is here again underlined.  These themes will be explored further in her forthcoming book Strangers in Their Own Land: A Journey into the Heart of the Right. I will suspend judgement until I read that full treatment but the concepts here are certainly interesting. Sitting here in Belfast as I write this, I can, for instance, see some scope for the deployment of ‘deep stories’ in trying to understand the emotional logic of politics here too.

The abstract for the talk is below.

I begin with a paradox. In the United States, as in Europe, the gap between rich and poor has recently widened. At the same time, right-wing groups have risen for whom such a gap poses no problem at all. Based on new fieldwork on the U.S. Tea Party (approved by some 20% -30% of Americans) I ask: what emotional needs does such a movement meet? More basically, how does emotion underlie political belief? In answer I propose the concept of a deep story. It’s an allegorical, collectively shared, honor-focused, “feels-as-if” story. A man is standing in line for a ticket he feels he greatly deserves and which confers honor. At the front of the line is another man behind a dark glass window handing out tickets. In front and in back are others in line. To the side, is an official supervisor of the line. Then some people “cut into” the front of the line, and the story moves from there. Tickets are for the American Dream. The supervisor is the American president, and a rumor is flying that tickets are running out. They – and all of us — see through allegory. And once established, we protect it by pursuing an emotional agenda. This determines what a person wants to feel and know. Liberals have a deep story too. Each story – that of conservative and liberal — implies a strategy of action for addressing global capitalism, and the frightening idea that American –and European –dominance and prosperity may be a “prophecy that fails.” The idea of “deep stories” may help us communicate across a widening political divide and address the issues of difference, inequality –with imagination and compassion

Just In Print: Power and Emotion (Routledge)

Power and emotion cover


I am delighted to announce that a collection of papers edited by myself and Prof. Helena Flam on the theme of emotions and power is just out today. This collection originally appeared as a special issue of the Journal of Political Power in 2013, but was chosen by Routledge to be reissued as part of their ‘special issue as book‘ series.  It is available for purchase from Amazon (UK now, US in October), Routledge, the Book Depository and elsewhere, but would make an excellent addition to your institutional library (recommendation form here).

The book includes some very high quality chapters that deploy and interrogate the concepts of emotion and power across a wide array of topics and issues, from some of the leading international researchers on these topics. The quality and diversity on show recommend this publication to a variety scholars, but especially those interested in the sociology of emotions, questions of social and political power, political sociology, organization studies, media studies, education, and political and social theory more generally.

The list of chapters and authors is:

Heaney, J.G. ‘Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure theoretical myopia’.

Flam, H. ‘The transnational movement for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation as an emotional (rule) regime?’.

Simpson, A.V., Clegg, S.R., Freeder, D. ‘Compassion, power and organization’.

Barbalet, J., Qi, X. ‘The paradox of power: conceptions of power and the relations of reason and emotion in European and Chinese culture’.

Wettergren, Å., Jansson, A.‘Emotions, power and space in the discourse of “People of the Real World”’.

Baker, S.A., Rowe, D. ‘The power of popular publicity: new social media and the affective dynamics of the sport racism scandal’. 

Martin, J.‘A feeling for democracy? Rhetoric, power and the emotions’.

Zembylas, M.‘Memorial ceremonies in schools: analyzing the entanglement of emotions and power’.

Procter, L. ‘Emotions, power and schooling: the socialisation of “angry boys”.

The blurb reads:

This collection is concerned with two fundamental concepts of social science– power and emotion. Power permeates all human relationships and is constitutive of social, economic, and political life. It stands at the centre of social and political theorizing, and its study has enriched scholarship within a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, political science, philosophy, and anthropology. The conceptual cluster of emotion, by contrast, had a more troubled time within these same disciplines. However, since the 1970’s and the advent of the ‘emotional turn’, there has been a widespread re-evaluation of emotion in and for our shared social existence and, today, emotions research is at forefront of contemporary social science. Yet, although both concepts are now widely seen as fundamental, research on these two phenomena has tended to run in parallel.

This collection, featuring leading international scholars, seeks to unite and deploy both concepts, emotion and power, in a variety of ways, and on a diverse array of topics such as: education, organizations, social movements, politics, ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, rhetoric and in comparative intellectual history. The results are at the bleeding edge of scholarship on these concepts, and will make important reading for practitioners and students working in the sociology of emotions, social and political power, political sociology, organization studies, and for sociological and political theory more generally.

This book was published as a special issue of the Journal of Political Power.

Please share widely!


Kari Norgaard — Living in Denial

In this excellent talk, recorded in 2013, Kari Norgaard offers a wonderful and concise overview of her well known book on the sociology of climate change Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life (2011). What is most interesting, from my perspective, is the way that she deploys conceptions of both emotion (specifically: guilt, fear of the future, and helplessness) with questions of power and power relations (especially Lukes’ notion of 3D power) in her analysis to explain how knowledge of climate change is negotiated, and denied, in everyday life. Drawing on ethnographic data from fieldwork in Norway, Norgaard shows how this power-emotion nexus is fundamentally social, and constitutive of the social organization of climate denial. Both the book and this short (36m) lecture are well work checking out.

Via Youtube:

In her lecture, professor Kari Norgaard uses interviews and ethnographic data from a community in western Norway during the unusually warm winter of 2000-2001 to describe how knowledge of climate change is experienced in everyday life. Stories in local and national newspapers linked the warm winter explicitly to global warming. Yet residents did not write letters to the editor, pressure politicians, or cut down on the use of fossil fuels. Norgaard describes the disturbing emotions of guilt, helplessness and fear of the future that arose when people were confronted with the idea of climate change — and then builds a model of socially organized denial to describe how people normalized these disturbing emotions through the deployment of conversation norms and discourses that served as “tools of social order.” Using literature from sociology of emotions, environmental sociology and sociology of culture, she describes “the social organization of climate denial” through multiple levels, from emotions to cultural norms to political economy.

The lectures shared here were given on October 5th 2013 in the following order:

Guðni Elísson: “Earth101”

Stefan Rahmstorf: “The Climate Crisis”

Michael Mann: “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”

Kari Norgaard: “Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life”

Peter Sinclair: “Communicating Climate Science in the Disinformation Era”

Recorded by Phil Coates and edited by Ryan Chapman.

Call for Papers – ESA Emotions Network Midterm Conference 2014**DEADLINE EXTENDED TO APRIL 6TH 2014**

Antony Gormley: FEELING MATERIAL XIV, 2004 4 mm square section mild steel bar 225 x 218 x 170 cm Photograph by Stephen White, London
Antony Gormley: FEELING MATERIAL XIV, 2004
4 mm square section mild steel bar
225 x 218 x 170 cm
Photograph by Stephen White, London


The ESA Emotions Network (RN11) will hold their 6th midterm conference between 25-27 September, 2014. The conference will take place on the island of Rhodes, Greece, in the University of the Aegean. This year, in addition to the usual streams, the conference will feature two special workshops on emotions – one for PhD students (featuring Prof. Helena Flam and Prof. Helmut Kuzmics), and one on the use of literary analysis for sociology of emotions research (again, featuring Prof. Helmut Kuzmics and Dr. Stephanie Bird). The proposed sessions, towards which you might pitch your abstracts, include: Theorizing Emotions; Emotions and: Morality; Globalization; Religion; Civic Action; Power; Literature; Law; Finance; Visuals; Migration-Sensations-Spaces; Post-Atrocity Emotions; and Researching Emotions Empirically. The full call for papers is here: CfP RN 11 Midterm Rhodes final(pdf).

Abstracts not exceeding 300 words should be sent by the 31st of March 2014 to Jochen Kleres ( Please use “RN 11 midterm submission”in the subject line of your email. Also, please send your abstract indicating whether it is for a specific session listed above. Notifications about the abstracts selected for presentation at the midterm conference will be made by mid-May 2014. Conference fees, more precise conference times, and links to accommodation will be announced then.

I hope to make it this year myself and I urge those working on affect or emotions to submit an abstract. I have been to other conferences with this group and always found them both intellectually stimulating and, perhaps more importantly, filled with interesting, warm and (not least) fun social scientists from all over the world. But hurry up! The deadline is Monday!


William Reddy – Do Emotions Have a History? The Example of Romantic Love.

In this fascinating talk William M. Reddy, the William T. Laprade Professor of History and Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, expounds on the theme of romantic love.  This is the subject of his recent (and award-winning) book called The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900-1200 CE (2012).  The talk took place at the University of Melbourne in March of last year, in association with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. The blurb for the talks is below.  Reddy’s earlier work, and his concept of ’emotional regimes’ in particular has been influential for my own work in the sociology of emotions.  I have recently aquired this book and look forward to reading it.  The talk offers a reasonable summary of the main arguments, which suggests that the history of love is different in Europe to elsewhere, where love and sexual desire are united.  In Europe this was the case prior to, but not after, the 12th century CE, when the medieval notion of courtly love developed in opposition to moral theological definitions of sexual love as an ‘appetite of the body’ to be suppressed, controlled and subject to discipline. Love became ‘split’ or bifurcated, as is the Western tendency, into ‘bad/profane’ sexual desire and ‘pure/sacred’ sublime love – body and soul.  This split did not occur elsewhere, according to Reddy, who uses (primarily) literary examples from Japan, Asia and other cultures to make a comparative ethnography of love.  These themes, and much more besides, feature in the talk.      

Are emotions hard-wired, or are they subject to cultural or historical variation? In general, emotions are not subject to voluntary control; we do not get to pick which ones we will feel. Some emotions, like fear or anger, may trigger physiological changes. Others, like pride or nostalgia, do not. Are emotions hard-wired? Or are they subject to cultural or historical variation? Or perhaps, some are hard-wired, others shaped by culture?

For decades experts have been divided on the subject. The question of romantic love is a good entry point for appreciating the complexities social scientists face in trying to make sense of emotions. It seems that romantic love, of one kind or another, can be found in almost every part of the world. Is it universal, a product of neurotransmitters interacting with subcortical structures? The record suggests, on the contrary, not only that romantic love has gone through some striking transformations over the centuries, but also that collective action can make a difference in how we feel.

Professor William M. Reddy is the author of the seminal work on the History of Emotions, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions. (Cambridge University Press, 2001). His most recent book is The making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia and Japan, 900-1200CE (University of Chicago Press) was published in 2012.

Randall Collins – Violence as emotional dominance: Micro-sociological causes

One of the great contemporary sociologists/social theorists working in the United States, Prof. Randall Collins, gave a talk earlier this year as part of the Cardiff University Distinguished Lecture Series.  Here he offers a engaging précis of his microsociological approach to the question of violence, explored in detail in his book-length treatment of the topic from 2009. No time to offer criticisms now but I may get a chance over the Christmas break.  The microsociology of Christmas shopping (emotional dominance, forward panic, tension, and the violence of buggies banging against tired ankles etc) awaits.

Violence as Emotional Dominance: Micro-sociological causes.

Emotional dominance of one’s opponent is the key to what happens in violence-threatening situations.  The main emotion observed in such situations is confrontational tension/fear, and this makes most violence blustering and incompetent; most physical damage happens after one side establishes emotional dominance. Hence most successful violence looks like an atrocity. We will consider what causes emotional dominance; prolonged struggles over dominance and their pathways to “forward panic” overkill against defeated victims; stalemates in which emotional dominance is never established and the contest winds down; and emotional stalemates resulting in prolonged war of attrition.  Micro-sociological evidence incorporates visual images and close observation of emotional expression, time-sequences of events, subjective phenomenology, and physiological correlates. Practical advice is suggested for dealing with violent situations.

Randall Collins is Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology at University of Pennsylvania. He was President of the American Sociological Association from 2010 to 2011.  Among his publications are Violence: a Micro-Sociological Theory (2008) Interaction Ritual Chains (2004); Macro-History: Essays in Sociology of the Long Run (1999); and The Sociology of Philosophies: a Global Theory of Intellectual Change (1998).

Special Issue: Emotions & Power

RPOWcover 1..2

Just a quick note to announce that a special issue of the Journal of Political Power, edited by myself and Prof. Helena Flam, is now available online. The theme of the special issue is emotions and power, and the issue contains some new and exciting social science research addressing these two concepts from a variety of perspectives. We have chosen eight papers that address both concepts, emotion and power in a variety of settings, including education, work organizations, social movements, politics, ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, rhetoric and in comparisons in the conceptualization of some core concepts between ‘the West’ and ‘the East’. The diversity of subjects and approaches in evidence in the papers testifies both to the ubiquity of power and emotions in all areas of social life in general, and the importance and illumination gained from exploring these concepts together. The list of contributions, with links, is below. There are a handful of free access eprints to my introduction still available, but the rest of the articles are behind a paywall for now. If anyone wants me to email one or other of the papers just PM or leave a comment.

Heaney, J.G. (2013) ‘Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure theoretical myopia’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 355–362.

Flam, H. (2013) ‘The transnational movement for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation as an emotional (rule) regime?’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 363–383.

Simpson, A.V., Clegg, S.R., Freeder, D. (2013) ‘Compassion, power and organization’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 385–404.

Barbalet, J., Qi, X. (2013) ‘The paradox of power: conceptions of power and the relations of reason and emotion in European and Chinese culture’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 405–418.

Wettergren, Å., Jansson, A. (2013) ‘Emotions, power and space in the discourse of “People of the Real World”’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 419–439.

Baker, S.A., Rowe, D. (2013) ‘The power of popular publicity: new social media and the affective dynamics of the sport racism scandal’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 441–460.

Martin, J. (2013) ‘A feeling for democracy? Rhetoric, power and the emotions’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 461–476.

Zembylas, M. (2013) ‘Memorial ceremonies in schools: analyzing the entanglement of emotions and power’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 477–493.

Procter, L. (2013) ‘Emotions, power and schooling: the socialisation of “angry boys”’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 495–510.