The not altogether social construction of emotions: A critique of harré and Gillett

Are emotions like sneezes, unwilled, mechanical, or are they like judgments; are they entirely social constructions? Harré and Gillett believe that emotions are exclusively judgments. We argue that their view misses something important. Imagine a person quaking in anger. Both we and Harré and Gillett believe that he is angry only if he has made an implicit judgment, such as I have been transgressed against. But it is the quaking, not the judgment, that gives authenticity and force to the expression of anger. The quaking does not clarify what the actor means but rather it clarifies the relation of the actor to the meaning of his display. What makes it a genuine expression of anger and not a joke or performance is that the quaking is beyond the will. Bodily displays are not necessary to make expressions authentic; anything that shows that the expression is beyond the will will do, for instance, obsessive thoughts, intrusions, or an inability to concentrate. For Harré and Gillett emotions both as displays and feelings do not merely embody judgments but are also speech acts. We argue that an expression, a feeling or flitting through the mind, cannot be a speech act since only the overt can fit into the convention, the strictures of a community. Nor is the display merely a speech act. Since for an emotional display to be genuine it must slip from the lips unbidden. Further, a speech act account makes the emotions arbitrary; they imply that the set of possible emotions is open. We think, on the other hand, that only some sorts of judgments can become part of an emotion; judgments that relate to things that are important enough in a particular culture that judgment display and feeling are linked together involuntarily
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DOI 10.1111/1468-5914.00073
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Simon Clarke (2003). Psychoanalytic Sociology and the Interpretation of Emotion. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 33 (2):145–163.

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