Viola, Christian Nold, Yves
Teresa Margolles, Valerio Magrelli, William Kentridge
Katharina Grosse, Andrea Ferrara, Elisa Biagini
Maurice Benayoun, Antonella Anedda
|EMOTIONAL SYSTEMS I Publication l Lectures l Education l Contact l Italiano|
Forword by James M. Bradburne
Emotional Systems by Franziska Nori
feelings are" Antonio Damasio
|Paul Ekman’s renowned anthropological theory of the six ‘primary emotions’ fell out of favour in the 1980s, when it was rejected by new studies that were already defining the relationship between emotions and the cognitive processes. The American historian and anthropologist William M. Reddy reconstructs and then critiques Ekman’s theory, arriving at conclusions borne out by studies in experimental psychology demonstrating a profound, ‘inextricable’ bond between the emotional and cognitive processes. Reddy’s model is the theory of linguistic acts: that is, the phrases, utterances and languages that are simultaneously actions as well, with an influence on their surroundings. Reddy calls these emotional expressions ‘emotives’ and deems them of fundamental importance for society and politics.|
|The Theory of
Emotives: A Synopsis
William M. Reddy
|In the 1970s and 1980s, a large number of psychological
studies, conducted in various parts of the world, seemed to demonstrate
that people everywhere responded in the same way to certain facial expressions
of emotion. In the Philippines, in South Africa, in Japan or Micronesia,
subjects agreed in associating the local words for certain basic emotions
with the same set of facial expressions. Everyone agreed that face A
was happy, face B sad, face C angry, face D fearful,
face E surprised, face F disgusted. These were the six
emotions of Paul Ekman’s famous ‘basic emotions theory’.
According to this theory all human beings possessed six hard-wired emotional
response patterns. These patterns produced the six different facial expressions,
when they were activated; the same patterns allowed us to recognise those
facial expressions when we saw them on other faces. All other emotions were
just composites of these six, Ekman believed, just as all colours can be
seen as blends of the primary colours. Ekman’s theory of basic emotions
was only the most influential of a number of basic emotions theories, all
of which drew on long-standing Western folk beliefs about emotions. The
assumption that emotions are not fashioned, but rise up automatically from
the body goes back to the ancient Greeks. Seneca referred to them as adfectus
(affect) – disturbances that could knock reason off course. Descartes
elaborated his own theory of basic emotions, as did Darwin.
However, in the 1990s, serious questions were raised about the validity of Ekman’s theory and the experiments that seemed to support it. The tests relied, for example, on a forced-choice procedure – that is, the list of possible emotion words subjects could choose from was limited in advance to six; furthermore, subjects were trained in the test procedures before the tests were run. When a subject chose a word for a facial expression, it was not necessarily the word he might have preferred above all others, but instead only a best match from among the six available words. When subjects were allowed to pick any word they liked, all semblance of agreement about the emotional meaning of facial expressions dissolved, even within populations of similar cultural background.
Basic emotions theory was challenged in the 1990s by new studies that seemed to reveal emotions as more complex, multifaceted responses deeply implicated with cognitive processes. Emotions became automatic in the same way that language did, through constant repetition and ‘overlearning’. The fact that a room full of English speakers will quickly recognise the word pencil when it is flashed on a screen does not mean that the recognition of pencil is a genetically programmed response.
During the 1980s and 1990s, anthropologists were studying emotional variation with renewed interest, as well. Field work in numerous societies showed variation not only in the local conception of ‘emotion’, not only in local emotional vocabularies, but also in local emotional practices. Certain Polynesians lacked a word for grief and would deny, on losing a friend, that they felt sad – only admitting to a certain discomfort or mild illness. In America, love is considered a happy word; in China and on Ifaluk atoll, it is regarded as inherently sad. In America pride is considered morally good, in Japan it is viewed as antisocial. Similar contrasts could be found for the local equivalent concepts of sadness, fear, anger, shame. Local terms not only vary in meaning, that is, but vary in the positive or negative moral value attached to them, and in the kinds of behaviours they are said to elicit. Most societies, it turns out, have definite emotional ideals and norms. Even though the content of ideals and norms varies enormously, there are virtually always one or more ideal emotions, one or more norms – emotional rules one must not violate, one or more emotions that are condemned. In examining the anthropological research, I was particularly struck by the widespread evidence that preferred emotional states were taught by collective rituals as well as by the constantly repeated formulas of everyday life. Repetition seemed to enable emotional learning. This finding seemed to correspond with certain findings of experimental psychologists. One of these was a pattern of so-called misattribution. If asked on a rainy day, subjects generally reported that their lives were less happy than if asked on a sunny day. They misattributed a mood brought on by the weather to the overall state of their lives. If asked to look at a sexy picture, subjects generally regarded the picture as more attractive if they were just getting off of a roller coaster. They misattributed their state of excitement, caused by the roller coaster, to the picture.
Emotions could easily be primed as well. If shown a picture of a happy person, subjects became more likely to report that they were happy. The happy face (the prime) is believed to activate happy thoughts. Activated thoughts are more likely to pop into attention, so that during a subsequent task – responding to a question about one’s mood – the happy thoughts are more readily accessible to attention. Some psychologists have gone so far as to propose that conditions such as anxiety or depression are sustained by certain negative thoughts that are ‘chronically accessible’, that is, thoughts that are in a high state of activation all the time. The mentally healthy person, in contrast, is said to have a positive bias, a set of chronically accessible optimistic thoughts about self and life chances.
This kind of theory is a long way from basic emotions theory. Many experimental psychologists have concluded that emotion and cognition are ‘inextricably intertwined’; and that emotions are as variable and as protean as cognition.
Seeing how the psychological and anthropological research was converging, I have proposed a theory of emotions based loosely on an analogy with speech act theory. Speech act theory examines those utterances that are also actions – speech acts. ‘I order you to close the door’ is a good example. By saying, ‘I order…’ one orders. The utterance is the action. Speech acts do not merely represent, they are not merely true or false, they do something to the world. J. L. Austin called them ‘performatives’. I propose we regard emotional expression as also doing something to the world, rather than merely reporting. When we express an emotion, such as with the utterance, ‘I am sad’, we activate certain thoughts and render them more likely to pop into attention. We may be reminded of a departed relative or of a severe financial loss – and thus our sadness may deepen after we say ‘I am sad’. Emotional expressions are like self-fulfilling prophecies – except that they can backfire. They can fail to work or even elicit an opposite feeling. In this sense an emotional expression can be both exploratory (we try it to see if it works) and instrumental (we try it to get ourselves into the state we want) – often both at the same time. I propose to call such emotional expressions ‘emotives’. Regarded in this way, emotional expression is of paramount social and political importance. Our capacity to mould our feelings must be harnessed by our immediate communities. Only communities that share a common emotional style can hope to closely coordinate their goals and behaviours. A good example would be a royal council or a legislature – their deliberations can proceed smoothly to conclusions only if they accept that emotional expressions of certain sorts are good or acceptable, others impermissible. The anthropological literature shows that the range of variation is great – what can count as acceptable emotional expression in the English Parliament today would have been viewed as criminal insult in the Heian imperial court. Despite such differences, the universal presence of ideals and norms offers confirmation that emotional expression is a domain of self-exploration and self-shaping. Collectively we can transform ourselves – within certain ill-defined limits. The outcome of collective emotional training is not certain, only probable. Our collective pliability can help to explain practices such as the gladiatorial combats of ancient Rome, or the popular melodramas of eighteenth-century Europe. Gladiatorial combat maintained its popularity, perhaps, because it represented and glorified a kind of unrestrained aggressiveness that Romans admired as an emotional ideal. Eighteenth-century theatregoers, in contrast, came to enjoy the experience of pity, shedding tears several times per night as they watched a play by Diderot or an opera by Gluck. These people were being neither savage nor hypocritical. They were, instead, refreshing their training, so that certain admired emotions – aggressiveness, pity – remained overlearned, highly accessible to attention, automatic.
Any coherent social order will have an emotional politics, consisting of one or more approved emotional styles organised around a set of ideal emotions, around norms which condemn certain other emotions, and supported by prescribed penalties for those who refuse or are unable to conform. As history unfolds, a given emotional style will be easy to sustain at times. At other times it may slip into crisis and the crisis may help to thrust a social order forward into a new configuration. Emotions, understood in this way, are an indispensable feature of cultural order and social practice. Scholars who study the past, who study expressive art forms, who study social change or human diversity have good reason to pay more attention than they have in the past to the collective rituals and scenes by which emotional expression is shaped, and our emotional styles given form.
|The brief essay that we publish here has been written expressly for this publication by William Reddy, author of a famous ‘history of emotions’: The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2001).|