THE INTERACTIONAL MODEL
The organismic view reduces us to an elicitation-expression model. The interactional model presupposes biology but adds more points to social entry: social factors enter not simply before and after but interactively during the experience of emotion. Let us say that a man becomes violently angry when insulted. What, in his cultural milieu, constitutes an insult? As his anger rises, does he recodify the reality to which he responds? Does some feature of the social context aid or inhibit him in this? Simultaneous to his out
burst, does he react with shame or with pride at the anger? Does he express the anger in ways that work it up or ways that bind it? These are the questions of the interactionist. If we conceptualize emotion as instinct, we never pose questions about these points of social entry in the first place. By virtue of its greater complexity, the interactional model poses a choice between models of how socialfactors work. *
Dewey, Gerth and Mills. Impulse, Dewey argued in 1922, is organized in interaction on the spot. “There are an indefinite number of original or instinctive activities which are organized into interests and dispositions according to the situation to which they respond” (Dewey 1922, p. 147). Thus, fear or anger have no common origin in a constitutional disposition. Rather, each feeling takes its shape, and in a sense becomes itself only in social context. Dewey talks of how the self, in the process of charting a course of action, actively recharts and alters that course while interacting with the situation. He does not apply these ideas of emergence and variability to emotion, but he prepared the way for Gerth and Mills to do so.
In the same way, George Herbert Mead did not talk about emotion, but he further cleared a path for doing so from an interactional perspective. In Mead’s schema, the self is divided into the spontaneous uncontrolled “I” and the reflective, directing, monitoring “me.” Had Mead developed a theory of emotion, he would have begun by elaborating his idea of the “I.” To Mead, one person’s “I” was as “spontaneous” as another’s. He looked for no social differences in this aspect of self. But his own notion of the importance of interaction in formulating the “me” that interacts could also be applied to
* The task of integrating social patterns with “basic emotionality” was early recognized by Marvin Opler: “If, for example, there is no latency period, as is well known, in the Trobriands; if Zuni women feel little social sense of deprivation, Okinawans no great sexual shame or guilt, or Samoans little spontaneity and personal freedom in contrast to Navajos; then not only do the mechanisms of adjustment vary, but the basic emotionality involved in a type of adjustment will vary as well” (1956, p. 28; emphasis mine).
the “I”; there may well be differences between the “I” in comparable interactions of, say, an Englishman and an Italian.
Gerth and Mills combine a theory of interaction from Mead, a notion of motivation from Freud, and structural ideas from Weber and Marx in their effort to discover ways in which social structure shapes character (1964, p. xiii). In essence, they do this by linking creeds and symbols to the motivations required for the enactment of institutional roles. Their ideas about emotion are their own; as they say, “George Mead had no adequate notion of emotions and motives, no dynamic theory of the affective life of man” (p. xvii). They distinguish three aspects of emotion: gesture (or behavioral sign), conscious experience, and physiological process. Of these three aspects they focus most on gesture—not as Darwin did, outside an interactional context, but as we see below, within an interactional context. Here, in their words, is how interaction enters into the process of defining feeling:
When our feelings are vague and inchoate, the reactions of others to our gestures may help define what we really come to feel. For example, if a girl has been jilted at the altar and is generally upset about it, the responses of her mother may define the girl’s feelings of sadness and great grief, or of indignation and anger. In such cases, our gestures do not necessarily “express” our prior feelings. They make available to others a sign. But what it is a sign of may be influenced by their reactions to it. We, in turn, may internalize their imputation and thus define our inchoate feeling. The social interaction of gestures may thus not only express our feelings but define them as well. (p. 55)
The girl cries. The mother defines the crying as a sign of anger. The girl responds to her mother’s interpretation of her tears. “Yes, anger more than sadness.” And what the crying “is a sign of” is in this way swayed in interaction with the mother. How do other people influence our understanding of what we feel and, more deeply, even change the “object” of our understanding? How does this influence work differently in different cultural contexts? Gerth and Mills pose these questions, but they pursue them no further.
Erving Goffman. Gerth and Mills address the link between institutions and personalities. Yet the evanescent situations that make up what we call institutions, the situations in which we show our personality, are far more clearly portrayed in the works of Erving Goffman.
The work of Erving Goffman adds two useful ideas—or more precisely, vantage points, to Gerth and Mills: that of the affective deviant, the person with the wrong feeling for the situation and for whom the right feeling would be a conscious burden; and that of the fly on the wall, for whom each second of human action is a long, long tale.
The vantage point of the affective deviant allows Goffman to demonstrate how the social solidarity we take for granted must be continually recreated in daily life. He seems to say, in portrait after portrait, it takes this much work for a group to laugh in simultaneous spontaneity, that much work to achieve engrossment in a game. The nature of the work varies marvelously, but the fact of it remains quietly constant. Beneath this constant is an implicit comparison with what it might be like for the actor to express what he or she feels regardless of social constraint or to what it might be like if conformity came naturally. For unlike Erich Fromm, Goffman does not assume that the individual is effortlessly, pliantly social. On the other hand, the individual’s social feelings are not repressed and made unconscious, as they are for Freud, but consciously suppressed or controlled. The social uses of emotion are clearly stated, but it is not so clear how the individual, apart from the group, can use them.
As fly-on-wall, Goffman focuses on the scene, the situation. Each situation, in his view, has a social logic of its own that people unconsciously sustain. Each situation “taxes” the individual, who in return gets protection from unpredictability and membership in something larger. The affective deviant is one who tries to avoid paying these social taxes. Taxes, in turn, come in emotive currency. For example, embarrassment is an individual’s contribution to the group in the singular sense that embarrassment indicates that the individual cares how he seems in company. Not to feel embarrassed in certain situations is to violate the latent rule that one should care about how the group handles or mishandles one’s identity.
The problem with this rendition of reality is that there is no structural bridge between all the situations. There are “taxes” here and “taxes” there but no notion of an overarching pattern that would connect the “collections.” Social structure, to Erving Goffman, is only our idea of what many situations of a certain sort add up to. One moves, as Harvey Farberman puts it, “from one fractured island of reality” to the next, and all the work of making a situation seem real must begin afresh each time. To solve this problem, we should take what Goffman has developed and link it to institutions on the one hand and to personality on the other. This would enable us to account for what we predicate from one situation to the next, in both institutions and individuals.
Goffman sharpens his focus by identifying the rules and microacts that are conceptual elements of any situation. Rules establish a sense of obligation and license as they apply to the microacts of seeing, thinking about, remembering, recognizing, feeling, or displaying. Consider, for example, the relation of obligation to act: “He will be obliged to prevent himself from becoming so swollen with feelings and a readiness to act that he threatens the bounds regarding affect that have been established for him in the interaction” (1967, pp. 122-123). Or, a gamesman “has a right to deeply involve himself’ (1974, p. 225).
A rule can be distinguished by the micro-act it addresses. Some rules apply to paying attention (1967, p. 115) and thus govern feeling indirectly by governing what might evoke feeling. Other rules apply to feeling directly. For example: “Participants will hold in check certain psychological states and attitudes, for, after all, the very general rule that one should enter into the prevailing mood in the encounter carries the understanding that contradictory feelings will be held in abeyance” (1961, p. 23). For the most part, however, rules apply only to what the individual thinks and displays, and the link to emotion is left unspecified.
These rules are, in the main, not consciously recognized, “the questioned actor saying he performs for no reason or because he feels like doing so” (1967, p. 49). They are known indirectly, by the reaction that occurs when a rule is broken. They are also assumed to be generally agreed upon and unchanging. (Goffman does pose conflict, but it is less between one set of rules and another than between individual interests and those of the group.)
Just as Freud specialized in analyzing anxiety, so Goffman specializes in studying embarrassment and shame. Goffman shows us the self coming alive only in a social situation where display to other people is an issue. We are invited to ignore all moments in which the individual introspects or dwells on outer reality without a sense of watchers. Thus guilt, the sign of a broken internalized rule, is seldom if ever discussed. To discuss it would be to put the rule “inside” the actor, inside a sort of self that Goffman does not deal with.
In discussing rules, micro-acts, and shame-prone actors, Goffman applies the overarching metaphor of acting. His rules are generally rules that apply when we are “on stage.” We play characters and interact with other played characters. But for Goffman, acting is surface acting (see Chapter Three). The actor’s mental focus is on the slope of a shoulder, the angle of a glance, or the tightness of a smile, not on any inner feeling to which such gestures might correspond. Deep acting is not as empirically alive in Goffman’s work, and the theoretical statement about it is correspondingly weaker.
To develop the idea of deep acting, we need a prior notion of a self with a developed inner life. This, in Goffman’s actors, is generally missing. From no other author do we get such an appreciation of the imperialism of rules and such a hazy glimpse of an internally developed self. Goffman himself describes his work as a study of “moments and their men, not men and their moments” (1967). This theoretical choice has its virtues, but also its limitations.
At this point, a brief discussion of those limitations will be a convenient way to introduce my own approach to the study of emotion. Goffman’s theory of rules and his theory of self do not correspond. He posits a relation between rule and feeling. Yet the actor he proposes has little inner voice, no active capacity for emotion management that might enable him or her to respond to such rules. Even as rules and micro – acts come alive in Goffman’s work, the self that might perform such acts, the self that might acknowledge, obey, or struggle against such rules, is correspondingly unreal. Where is the self as subject of emotive experience? What is the relation of act to self? Goffman speaks as if his actors can induce, or prevent, or suppress feeling—as if they had a capacity to shape emotion. But what is the relation between this capacity to act and the self? Whatever other problems they posed, William James and Sigmund Freud proposed a self that could feel and manage feeling. Goffman does not.
Goffman defines the self as a repository of inner “psychological contributions.” As he puts it: “The self… as a performed character, is not an organic thing that has specific location. .. [the performer and] his body merely provide the peg on which something of collaborative manufacture will be hung for a time… and the means for producing and maintaining self do not reside inside the peg” (1959, pp. 252253). Actions happen to the self; but the self does not do them. Hence Goffman’s language is riddled with passives. For “a person becomes engrossed,” he writes that “a visual and cognitive engrossment occurs” (1961, p. 38). In addition, nouns do the work of verbs. For “people get involved,” he writes that “focused gatherings do have. . . significant properties … [and] the most crucial of these properties… is the organismic psychological nature of spontaneous involvement” (1961, p. 38). Conversely, “frames” are said to act; they organize cognitive and visual attention, as if autonomously. In order to divest himself of the concept of self, Goffman must reify the concepts just adjacent to the self. Thus frames, or on rare occasions even feeling states, are given the thickness and weight and reality that is denied to the self. Both Herbert Blumer’s critique of the implied passivity of the actor in sociological writing (1969) and Roy Schafer’s critique of psychoanalytic writing (1976) must be addressed to Goffman. When the self is theoretically dissolved into “psychological materials,” no relation between social rules and private experience can be developed.
In Goffman’s theory, the capacity to act on feeling derives only from the occasion, not from the individual. The self may actively choose to display feelings in order to give outward impressions to others. But it is passive to the point of invisibility when it comes to the private act of managing emotion. The “I” is there, of course, in the many stories from the San Francisco Chronicle, in the passages from novels, in hangmen’s accounts, in Ionesco plays, in Lillian Gish’s autobiography. But the private “I” is simply not there in theory. Feelings are contributions to interactions via the passive medium of a bodily self. We act behaviorally, not affectively. The system affects our behavior, not our feelings.