Cultural Theory and Emotions


One defining element of the study of emotions has been the emphasis on the critical role of culture. From Goffman’s (1961) early work on the encounter, through Hochschild’s (1979, 1983) work on feeling rules and emotional labor and Gordon’s (1990) work on emotional socialization, culture has been paramount to our understanding of emotions. Culture is an important element in definitions of emotions, emotional socialization, and emotional labor. The purpose of this chapter is to review cultural theorizing on emotions, discuss relevant research in this area, and provide direction for future work. The chapter begins by examining the critical role that culture plays in basic processes of labeling or defining our emotional experiences. In labeling our emotions, we must draw from our society’s emotion culture. The next section of the chapter examines the concept of emotion culture and how people are socialized into their particular emotion culture. Even emotionally competent actors who have been socialized must still work at managing their emotions to fit with society’s expectations. Following a discussion of emotional socialization is an examination of processes of emotion management and emotional deviance. Finally, the chapter concludes by examining how emotion management has moved into the arena of work and become part of our working lives. Throughout this chapter, it should be evident that much of our emotional experience is at the veiy least impacted, if not determined, by culture.

Publication Title

Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research