Emotion as social practice

Several key insights follow from conceptualising emotion as culturally and historically embedded rather than primarily biologically or naturally given. Feelings that emerge in a social situation may engender multiple interpretations and be experienced or identified as several emotions. Emotions overlap and bleed into each other, making them difficult to disentangle. Feelings and emotions may be ambivalent, in tension or in conflict and may not be easily or immediately identifiable or describable (Burkitt 2018).

Emotion has to be realised in performance; it ‘is not a material thing to be possessed and then displayed ... [it is] something that must be enacted and portrayed, something that must be realized’ (Goffman 1959: 75). Emotion as practice is not just about the body and mind, physiology and cognition. It necessarily involves language, material artefacts, other people and the environment, all of which are historically and culturally specific.

The language of emotion affects the ways emotions are experienced and expressed or performed. The images and metaphors that ‘English speakers routinely draw upon to think about “anger” as, for example, hot fluid in a container (boiling, steaming, bursting, etc)’, affect the experience of anger (Lutz and White

1986: 419). This image of anger, which perpetuates the notion of emotion as irrational and uncontrollable, has ’surprising traction in the common law’ (Sorial 2019: 129) and has significance in understanding judging and emotion.

Observable bodily presentation, including posture, facial expression, gestures and tone of voice are often used to identify or suggest particular emotions, though they are unstable markers and heavily context dependent (Barrett 2017). Observers may assess and interpret certain movements or sounds in emotion terms, but accuracy is not guaranteed, and scope for multiple interpretations of the same observations is wide.

Understanding emotion as a social practice recognises that emotive performance is oriented toward others in the social setting and implies an audience, even multiple audiences.

[T]he doing of emotion is an interactive performance that constantly shapes, develops, and alters the meanings of the emotion expressed ... [participants] not only display emotion through their bodily manifestations; they also perform emotion through narratives (Ng and Kidder 2010: 197, emphasis in original).

It is these interrelations and interactions that form the context for emotion experience, display and management.

Formal and informal norms specify expected or appropriate emotion—experience, performance, expression, management—in particular settings or contexts. Ideally, these norms are distinctive, shared and acquired through training and experience. They also change and are negotiated in social settings. Participants in any setting must, to some extent, be aware of, share and comply with the formal and informal norms relating to emotion (Rimé 2007). Not surprisingly, scholars from different disciplines adopt different concepts to describe these norms which vary historically, culturally, situationally and in levels of abstraction and visibility. These concepts include emotional standards (Reddy 2009), emotional communities (Rosenwein 2006), emotionology (Stearns and Stearns 1985), emotional styles (Gammerl 2012), emotional regimes (Bergman Blix and Wettergren 2016) and feeling rules (Hochschild 1979).

The social context or social setting itself can also have an emotion dimension. Terms such as emotional climate, emotional landscape, emotional environment, emotional ecology or emotional atmosphere refer to emotion that exists and endures beyond individuals, their feelings and actions. The emotional climate or emotional atmosphere is a quality or characteristic of a collectivity, for example a workplace, a classroom, a courtroom, an organisation or a community. Psychologists distinguish between emotional atmosphere—a transitory mood—and emotional climate which is a more enduring environment (Conejero and Etxebarria 2007; de Rivera 1992). These collective terms are used non-specifically in this book to refer to emotion that exists at the organisational or workplace level as distinct from the emotion that individuals experience, display and manage. Even so, the collective and the individual levels are inextricably linked through the social sharing of emotions and conformity with, or deviation from, appropriate feeling rules (Karstedt 2019; Rimé 2007).

Judging and Emotion investigates the ways emotion is constituted, experienced, manifested, displayed and managed injudicial work. It addresses how judicial officers approach and perform emotion. The focus is on everyday judicial work in its legal and social setting, in which emotion is disavowed yet essential. This setting is integral to understanding the constraints on and capacities for emotion and the ways in which emotion is experienced, performed and displayed.

Situationally specific norms pertaining to the courtroom regulate appropriate feelings and behaviour. Conforming to those feeling rules will entail emotion work. However, courtroom settings are complex; not all judicial officers feel the same things; not all connect bodily responses, sensations or feelings with emotion concepts; and not all will express or display their feelings in the same ways. Some of this variation will be personal and biographical, moulded by experiences, training and socialisation, others will be shaped by social institutions such as gender and social class, as well as by judicial and legal institutional norms. The emotions experienced and expressed by judicial officers, the management of those emotions and judicial perception, interpretation and management of others’ emotions constitute and can potentially alter the emotional standards.

 
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