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Journal of Political Power

ISSN: 2158-379X (Print) 2158-3803 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpow21

Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure

theoretical myopia

Jonathan G. Heaney

To cite this article: Jonathan G. Heaney (2013) Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure
theoretical myopia, Journal of Political Power, 6:3, 355-362, DOI: 10.1080/2158379X.2013.849367

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2158379X.2013.849367

Published online: 04 Dec 2013.

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Journal of Political Power, 2013
Vol. 6, No. 3, 355362, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2158379X.2013.849367


Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure theoretical


This special issue marks an attempt to reunite two core concepts power and
emotion in an illuminating, diverse and fruitful way. Power has been described as
the central concept of the social sciences (Clegg and Haugaard 2009). It perme-
ates all human relationships and is constitutive of society, economy and politics. Its
study has enriched scholarship and research within a wide range of disciplines,
including sociology, political science, philosophy, geography and anthropology. It
has, in various ways, been at the heart of social and political theory since the
beginning. The conceptual category of emotion, by contrast, has traditionally had
a more difcult time within these same disciplines. Yet emotions are also central to
the constitution of social life, to the maintenance of social order and the creative
destruction of that order. I reviewed some of these issues in 2011, arguing that
emotions and power should be viewed as conceptual twins and be treated
together. This special issue is the rst step in this direction.
Despite their close relation, power and emotion the two fundamental
components of social life have not received enough simultaneous attention. The
mainstream power literature, for example, is mostly silent about the emotions. A
range of factors have contributed to this, such as the separation of mind and body
from Descartes on and the fetishization of rationality within the social sciences more
generally. Emotions qua passions were seen as illnesses of the mind and appeared
as cancerous sores for pure practical reason (Kant et al. 2006, p. 166). For much of
the history of Western (social) science, emotions were positioned as an epistemo-
logical other (Somers and Gibson 1994). They were relegated to the losing side of
the binary oppositions that structured intellectual life and work, and placed beyond
the pale of social scientic endeavour. Yet, when we probe a little deeper, it turns out
that many of the well-known theorists of power, from Hobbes to Gramsci, from
Lukes to Giddens and from Elias to Foucault, let emotions play a signicant yet
largely unacknowledged underlabouring role in their work (Heaney 2011).
In fact, emotions whether named feelings, passions or sentiments were
actually discussed quite often and at length in the Western tradition. This was,
however, usually in negative terms. Emotions were spoken of (sometimes as gossip,
behind their backs, sometimes excoriated to their faces) but were more often
than not devalued. However, since the 1990s there has been a widespread revalua-
tion and recognition of emotions, and the fundamental role they play in social life,
in what is sometimes called the emotional turn. Today, emotions research is at the
forefront of contemporary social science, across and between the disciplines,
particularly in Europe (Barbalet 2001, 2002, Flam and King 2005, Hopkins et al.
2009, Demertzis 2013), and the US (Hochschild 1979, 1989, Turner and Stets
2005, Stets and Turner 2006).

2013 Taylor & Francis

356 Editorial

The intention of this special issue is to unite these two distinct streams of
research via the adoption of a bifocal lens comprised of both emotion and power.
Both traditions, I suggest, suffer from a form of theoretical myopia. The power
stream has focused productively on power and power problems, yet, with a few
exceptions, has been blind or implicit when it came to emotions.
The emotions stream has sometimes been better able to address power. For
example, in Kempers power-status theory of emotions, when in an interactive situ-
ation individuals gain in power or status, and see this as their own accomplishment,
they experience positive emotions such as satisfaction, happiness, condence and
security. When they feel belittled or deprived of power, and attribute this outcome
to their interaction partner, they experience negative emotions, such as fear,
anxiety or loss of condence (Kemper, 1990, 2006). Both power and emotions are
at least visible through this Kemperian lens. But while the emotions stream has
addressed questions of power, it has done so in a restrictive and cursory manner.
To stay with Kemper, his conception of power is restricted to a Weberian
power-over, shared also by Scheff (1990) and Hochschild (1983) but given a much
more differentiated treatment by, for example, Collins in his Conict Sociology
(1975). As Haugaard (2010), however, has argued following Wittgenstein, power
should be seen as a family resemblance concept or a conceptual cluster, incorpo-
rating a range of referents, including power-to, episodic power, dispositional power,
systemic power, empowerment, legitimate power, domination, constitutive power
and so on. This pluralism should not imply relativism nor be an excuse for laxity
in the conceptualization or deployment of power, but is rather based on pragmatic
criteria of usefulness and propriety to the task at hand. Indeed, this very journal
itself attests to the excellent work done by virtue of this conceptual pluralism; as
does this special issue.
Not only power, but also emotion has been a highly contested (I eschew
essentially) conceptual cluster. We are far from settled denitions, yet here too,
multiplicity promises to be fruitful. I would advocate remaining open about how
emotion and power can be conceptualized. And this is indeed what this special issue
attempted. Without any a priori, it therefore looks at a range of social and political
issues through the bifocal lens of power and emotions variously dened. This is a
lens that keeps both concepts, emotions and power, in focus throughout, without rele-
gation of one or the other. It is by keeping purchase on both concepts I am tempted
to say in a way akin to reective equilibrium that more insight is gained.
In this special issue, then, 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 testies both to the
ubiquity of power and emotions in all areas of social life in general, and the impor-
tance and illumination gained from exploring these concepts together.
We begin with two papers that, in different ways, address emotions and power
in Western organizations, with a particular focus on compassion (see also the recent
collection Sieben and Wettergren 2010). In the rst of these, Helena Flam critically
explores the emergent human rights movement for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation
(TJ&R), its power structures, values and institutionalization, from the perspective
of the sociology of emotions (Flam 2000, 2005). The core theoretical insight driv-
ing this contribution suggests, drawing on Kemper, that the prevailing emotional
Journal of Political Power 357

regimes (Reddy) within societies, and their corresponding feeling rules (Hochs-
child) are both dened by power holders within those societies (asymmetrically, to
their advantage) and are an expression and symbol of their power an insight that
Elias elaborated on too. Yet, rather than applying this to specic nation-states, Flam
turns this lens onto what she considers to be a newly emergent Bourdiusian social
eld, the transnational multi-actor system of TJ&R. Here a coalition of aspiring
power holders, including various (Transnational) Non-Government Organizations,
activists and medium-sized like-minded states, were successful in pooling their
combined resources and, as a result of this gain in social, cultural and symbolic
capital, in institutionalizing a new transnational legal-moral regime for the persecu-
tion of violations to humanitarian laws, war-crimes, genocide and crimes against
humanity (incorporated in bodies such as the International Criminal Court, and, par-
tially, in various International Criminal Tribunals and Truth Commissions world-
wide). This movement has advocated different emotions and feeling rules to
accompany the new legal-moral regime, particularly on how to address distant or
past human suffering, and when, how and to whom compassion should be shown.
The Western critics of the West for example (such as Boltanski and Sontag) advo-
cate the adoption of a mindful compassion (for the deserving victim) or cool
indignation (for the perpetrator) feeling rules, but only after the objective truth of
the suffering of the victim and the guilt of the perpetrator are proven. Other actors
within this system, such as activists or professionals, advocate similar feeling rules.
Flam also looks at the feeling rules at work in the courts, tribunals and commis-
sions themselves as they operate on the victims of atrocity. Here the therapeutic
ethos appears to be dominant, with many more feeling rules imposed on the victims
than on the perpetrators. Actual victims are expected to manage and control their
negative emotions, to not display their rage and hate. They are urged to forgive,
forget and heal. Reconciliation is primary, truth and justice, secondary consider-
ations. This is reective of the asymmetric power relations within societies, but it
is also an outcome of the emotional regime that various advocates of human rights
addressing these institutions engender and maintain. Thus, Flams contribution
shows how a critical deployment of this bifocal lens can illuminate important
aspects of human rights, social movements and international politics that might
remain occluded if one of these concepts in omitted.
Compassion is also the subject of the contribution by Ace Simpson, Stewart
Clegg and Daphne Freeder, who explore the relationship between this emotion and
power in organizations. They are particularly concerned with exploring how suffer-
ing and compassion are articulated within an organizational context, and how they
are connected with organizational power. They investigate this using a specic
empirical case the response by various organizations in Brisbane Australia to the
oods of January, 2011. Theoretically drawing on previous work on both power
(particularly Clegg and Etzoni) and emotions (Flam and Fineman) in organizations,
and on the wider work on compassion, they deploy qualitative data to argue that
the extent to which organizations actually showed compassion in the ood crisis
directly affected employee commitment outcomes toward those organizations
(anger, cynicism and gratitude). This study raises critical questions for advocates of
positive organizational studies, by problematizing the processes at work when
organizations act compassionately; both the outcomes and the motivations behind
the deployment of compassion may be more complex and ambivalent than the
growing literature on compassion in organizations acknowledges. It is necessary to
358 Editorial

excavate the power relations behind this deployment. Discourses on compassion

should not be taken at face value. Instead as this study shows it is how
organizations act towards their employees and how these employees perceive it that
While the opening papers exemplify the utility and insight gained from a bifocal
lens of emotions and power, they do so within an exclusively Western context.
The contribution by Jack Barbalet and Xiaoying Qi, by contrast, aims to compare
how the concepts of power, emotion and reason have been articulated very
differently within the Chinese intellectual tradition. This alone marks a valuable
contribution to our thinking. Too often, in Europe and elsewhere, we operate within
a default Eurocentric framework, if not always empirically, then more often at the
level of conceptualization, not mindful of the fact that other cultures have rich
alternatives within other intellectual traditions that could be benecial to our work.
At the centre of their discussion lies the opposition between reason and emotion. In
Europe, this opposition was standard until recent decades, but at its base were
relations of social power: those who were powerful were rational; those subject to
power were irrational and emotional. As such, the basis of this conceptual
opposition was fundamentally sociological, deriving from specic congurations of
power relations and corresponding institutions and practices. By contrast, reason
and emotion are unied in mainstream Chinese thought in the concept of xin,
which translates as heart-mind; the binary opposition is absent. This, they argue,
is a result of differing sociological developments and structures. This paper also
outlines a specic Chinese approach to power, drawing on the conceptualization in
evidence in the classic text, the Daodejing, which has been particularly inuential
in Chinese political theory. This is a conception based on paradox, suggesting that
the weaker party is often more powerful than the stronger (water is soft but it
moves mountains), but it is also methodological, assuming a world (reminiscent of
Whiteheads) characterized by change and ux. From this they go on to account
for the related conception of action contained in the text, wuwei and contrast it with
more mainstream accounts. Wuwei means non-action or non-coercive action and,
if power is considered a type of action, wuwei appears closer to a form of power as
anti-power; it represents a type of accommodation to the ux of the world that is
non-willful; a type of doing without doing. All of these conceptualizations, of
emotions, power, reason, action and their interconnections, provide an alternative
view to the standard Western ones, and may aid us in revisiting, if not revising,
the ways in which power and emotion are taken for granted in the West.
Within these Western traditions, power and politics have always been
synonymous. Yet, the extent to which politics has been based on emotions has only
recently gained attention (Ost 2004, Demertzis 2013). Emotions are fundamental to
politics; to gaining, holding and losing power; to mobilizing and inuencing
electorates; to both the building up, and the tearing down of political structures.
Politicians engage in discourse and rhetoric to evoke emotional responses, for an
us and against an emotionally constructed them emotions are the very means
by which the power game is played, and the media is increasingly the eld of play.
Much more work remains to be done in combining emotions and power in the
analysis of politics, political parties, parliaments and their dynamics than this
special issue can offer. The contribution by sa Wettergren and Andr Jansson
makes a step in this direction. It investigates the Swedish political landscape, and
in particular the Swedish Christian Democrat leader Gran Hgglunds discursive
Journal of Political Power 359

trope the People of the real world (PRW), which he deployed during the
20092010 election cycle. Their inquiry is focused on how this trope is con-
structed, the power position it defends, the spatial constructs it draws from and
which emotional processes it is designed to evoke. To achieve this, the paper draws
on cultural theory (cosmopolitanism vs. localism), spatial and moral geography and
the sociology of emotions, particularly Kempers power-status theory. The authors
argue that the PRW discourse is deployed to evoke the fear and resentment of the
normals, those who have lost power and status within the changing, mobile and
globalizing world, while witnessing the advancement of previously marginalized
groups, such as migrants, and their perceived domination by a left-wing cultural
elite, such as feminists and intellectuals. The emotions produced as a result of their
perceived positional setback are evoked and mobilized by politicians seeking to
gain political power. It is by paying attention to both emotions and power that
insight is gained into mainstream political processes, their motivations and effects.
In addition to political speeches, Wettergren and Jansson also analysed newspa-
per articles or what is now occasionally referred to as old or legacy media. In
the paper by Baker and Rowe, media is again the centre of attention, but they are
more focused on the new media, particularly social media, such as Twitter,
Facebook and Youtube. And here again, the utility and insight gained from having
both emotions and power centre stage is in evidence. Drawing on insights from
new media theory and the sociology of emotions, they orientate their discussion
around media scandals, analysing the Sepp Blatter racism scandal of 2011 in
particular, and how it played out in this new media ecology. This scandal occurred,
they argue, at a particular period in the history of race relations in Britain, in a
context of an emotional climate that was especially sensitive to the issues of racial
discrimination. This is partly why the denial of racism in football by the president
of the international governing body of football (FIFA), Sepp Blatter, caused such
public outrage. What, they argue, the new media has engendered is a newly
transformed and radicalized public sphere, that, when at its best, is democratized
and empowering. The shift from old media, which has tended to frame scandals
exclusively in terms of power and authority, to the new media, has created a new
space to express emotions and resistance. Both professional footballers and
ordinary people on Twitter could voice their outrage and objections to Blatters
comments resulting in an immediate, globally accessible and public debate. Many
of those who do not understand social media tend to dismiss it as virtual, imply-
ing that it is fake and somehow not real. This is what Jurgenson (2011) has
labelled digital dualism, which fallaciously attempts to ontologically separate the
online from the IRL in real life. Yet what this paper demonstrates is that con-
temporary life is penetrated via ubiquitous computing, web 2.0 technologies and
social media to such an extent that this dualism collapses. What occurs in real life
occurs on Twitter, and what occurs on Twitter has a signicant impact on events
in real life. All of which are bound up in both emotions and relations of power.
Neither myself nor the authors of this paper are technological utopians we see
and acknowledge the power asymmetries that still exist in social media and in
larger society. The Blatter racism scandal raised calls for his dismissal, but he
never stepped down. Yet the potential for more democratic outlets for emotions and
the ability to affect, change and challenge power relations in society are also facili-
tated by these new social media. Emotions, power and social media are a complex
nexus, with lots of scope for future work.
360 Editorial

Of course, social media qua media is often rhetorical as well as potentially

democratizing. James Martin begins his contribution on power, emotions and rheto-
ric in democratic theory with another public dispute, this time on legacy media
the appearance of Nick Grifn MEP, the leader of the British National Party, on the
BBC television show Question Time in 2009 (for analysis of the reception and
response to this event on Twitter, see Anstead and OLoughlin 2011). This event,
and the debate surrounding it, encapsulates the core issues at the centre of Martins
paper: democracy is at once a mode or channel for emotional expression, and emo-
tional restraint, via debate and compromise. Much of this occurs through discourse
and especially rhetoric. Yet, for many political theorists, particularly theorists of
deliberative democracy, rhetoric is seen as a corruption of the deliberative process.
For most, writes Martin, deliberation and the attempt to change preferences must
rest on appeals to logos (reason) rather than either pathos (emotion/passion) or
ethos (authority), which rhetoric would appear to imply. Thus rhetoric is debarred
because it is on the side of emotion, which stands against (a universalized, abstract,
simplied, out-moded and ultimately untenable version of) reason. Martin goes
on to draw on neuroscientic and psychoanalytic work to support his argument that
affective rhetorical strategies are part of a healthy democratic politics. He
advocates a rhetorical democracy in which emotions are brought to the fore to be
challenged and contested.
Our nal two papers turn our bifocal lens to another key site of struggle and
contestation: the educational eld. The rst, from Michalinos Zembylas, deployed
these concepts to investigate school memorial ceremonies. Drawing on literature in
nationalism (Billig), emotions (Collins) and social theory (Foucault), Zembylas
suggests that these ceremonies are rituals involved in the social construction of
nationhood and sites for the socialization and incorporation into the imagined
national emotional community. As such, these ceremonies act as vehicles of emo-
tion and power for the formation of national memory and identity (Heaney 2013
looks at the relationship between emotions and nationalism more generally). Apart
from a theoretical discussion of the entanglement of these concepts in schools,
Zembylas offers evidence from a large ethnographic research project which
explored national memory and emotion in Greek-Cypriot schools between 2007
and 2011. Here, he analyses how a particular memorial ceremony held to
remember the territories occupied in Cyprus by Turkey since 1974, and especially
the commemoration of the missing persons was enacted in two different
schools. In one school, the emotional theme or climate is solemn and dramatic,
with feelings of loss, grief and suffering to the fore; in the other school, the empha-
sis is on peace and shared suffering across the communities. One offers top-down
the hegemonic model of heroism and victimhood, the other at least the pretence
of bottom-up and the alternative model of peace and common pain. As such,
emotions and power are directly implicated in the construction of different subjec-
tivities, with different orientations towards and emotions attached to the past and
the future.
Ethnography also features in the last contribution by Lisa Proctor. She examines
how power and emotion operates in schools in general. Drawing on recent
socio-spatial analyses of emotion from the geography of emotion, she considers
how a dynamic relationship between emotion, space and power inuences the
attempts of pupils to gain power and social recognition. By incorporating theoreti-
cal insights from Honneth (social recognition), Clarke (micro-politics of emotions)
Journal of Political Power 361

and Goffman, Proctor shows how ascribed emotional identities result from the
institutional power of the school itself how the teachers power to spatially
segregate and name problem children affects their relational interactions. She
deploys two specic cases, that of Justin (an angry boy) and Sarah, from a junior
school in the UK (for 910 year olds). Her paper also points to the ambivalence of
the emotional turn, which not only liberates pent-up emotions and hitherto
repressed, marginalized or exploited persons. On the contrary, as she shows
emotions and power can be implicated in new forms of exclusion and segregation,
which may be produced when an exclusively psychological or therapeutic concep-
tion of emotions (via emotional intelligence or emotional literacy, for example)
becomes doxic, leading to the construction of spoiled identities, emotional win-
ners and losers. As these new social and emotional education programmes are
rolled out across the globe, more critical work, using the bifocals of emotions and
power, will be needed to challenge and problematize these processes.
In short, there is much more work to be done. I hope that the papers assembled
here will convince the reader of the utility and insight that may be gained from
approaching social and political issues with these bifocals on. These contributions
represent an explicit step in this direction.
To conclude I would, above all, like to thank my co-editor Helena Flam for her
tireless and intensive work on this project. Her insight and efforts were invaluable
and the special issue would not be here without her. I would also like to thank the
authors for their contributions, for understanding our requests for revisions and
changes and the occasional delays in the reviewing process. I would nally like to
thank the anonymous reviewers, some of whom stepped in at short notice when
promised reviews did not materialize. They provided excellent feedback and advice
not only to authors assembled here, but to others whose contributions we could not
include. We would also like to thank Mark Haugaard, the main editor of the
Journal of Political Power, for letting us host this issue.

Notes on contributor
Jonathan G. Heaney is a doctoral candidate in the School of Political Science and Sociol-
ogy, NUI Galway. He has just submitted his PhD thesis, which examines human emotions
and social change in late modernity, and in the Republic of Ireland in particular, and is
awaiting execution. This project was funded by the Irish Research Council and supported
by the Social Science Research Centre, NUI Galway. He is a member of the European
Sociological Association Emotions Research Network (RN11) and the International Political
Science Association Research Committee (RC36) on Political Power.

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Jonathan G. Heaney
School of Political Science & Sociology, National University of Ireland
Galway, Ireland