Affect and Social Context

  • Jeff Coulter


Sociology has had little to say about the nature of ‘affective’ or emotional conduct, perhaps primarily because, following Max Weber’s lead, it has generally been hived off theoretically from the bulk of ‘rational’ action in human affairs, downgraded to a sort of appendage to social relations and consigned to a permanently residual status. Mistakenly thought of as beyond the scope of social convention and constraint, affective states have been allowed to fall exclusively within the province of psychology. In its turn, psychology has generated a variety of ways of handling the phenomena of affect, but few of them have remained consistent with, or controlled by, the conceptual structure of emotion-concepts, and this has entailed a serious neglect of the socio-cultural dimensions integral to the very constitution of the phenomena under study. It will be argued here that such dimensions are primary in the consideration of affective states and conduct. Affect and rationality are much more closely inter-related than has been noted in the behavioral sciences, and both are throughout subject to socio-cultural and sociolinguistic analysis. Affective states have too frequently been identified with feeling-states, or with other ‘contents of consciousness’; they have also been theoretically ‘reduced’ to biological impulses or other visceral, vasomotor and biochemical transformations, or to the perception of such changes on the part of the organism.


Affective State Social Construction Specific Emotion Mental Health Worker Emotional Display 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 1739, L. A. Selby-Bigge, ed., Oxford University Press (Clarendon), 1888, Book 11, Pt. iii, Section 3.Google Scholar
  2. Cited in Abraham I. Melden, ‘The Conceptual Dimensions of Emotions’ in Theodore Mischel (ed.), Human Action: Conceptual and Empirical Issues (Academic Press, 1969) p. 201.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Errol Bedford, ‘Emotions’ in V. C. Chappell (ed.), The Philosophy of Mind (Prentice-Hall, 1962) p. 113.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, eds. G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright; trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1967) para. 488.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Basil Blackwell, 1968) p. 174.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Michael S. Pritchard, ‘On Taking Emotions Seriously’, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, Vol. 6, No. 2, October 1976, p. 219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 13.
    Stanley Schachter & J. Singer, ‘Cognitive, Social and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State’, Psychological Review, Vol. 69, 1962, andGoogle Scholar
  8. Stanley Schachter, ‘The Interaction of Cognitive and Physiological Determinants of Emotional States’ in Leonard Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (1964) andGoogle Scholar
  9. in P. Leiderman & D. Shapiro (eds.), Psychobiological Approaches to Social Behavior (Stanford University Press, 1964).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    See discussion in R. Harre & P. F. Secord (eds.), The Explanation of Social Behavior (Littlefield Adams & Co., Totowa, N.J., 1973) p. 272 et seq. Schachter and Singer conclude that: ‘Given a state of physiological arousal for which an individual has no immediate explanation, he will label this state and describe his feelings in terms of the cognitions available to him’ (1962, p. 398).Google Scholar
  11. (Italics added) I do not think that we have in the Schachter-Singer findings sufficient basis for an arousal-label theory of emotion, as Shibles has claimed (W. Shibles, Emotion: The Method of Philosophical Therapy (The Language Press, Wisconsin, 1974) pp. 129–32).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Howard Becker, ‘History, Culture and Subjective Experience: An Exploration of the Social Basis of Drug-Induced Experiences’, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 8, No. 3, September 1967;Google Scholar
  13. reprinted as ‘Interpreting Drug Experiences’ in Earl Rubington & Martin S. Weinberg (eds.), Deviance: The Interactionist Perspective (Macmillan, 1973).Google Scholar
  14. See also H. S. Becker, ‘Becoming a Marijuana User’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 70, 1953.Google Scholar
  15. (Variously reprinted, as in H. S. Becker (ed.), Outsiders, Free Press, 1963.)Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    Talcott Parsons, The Social System (Free Press, 1951).Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Anthony Kenny, Action, Emotion and Will (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963) p. 62.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    James M. Henslin, ‘Guilt and Guilt Neutralization: Response and Adjustment to Suicide’ in Jack D. Douglas (ed.), Deviance and Respectability: The Social Construction of Moral Meanings (Basic Books, 1970).Google Scholar
  19. 26.
    J. L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words (ed. J. O. Urmson; Oxford University Press, 1973 ed.) pp. 101–31.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jeff Coulter 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeff Coulter
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations