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Svend Brinkmann “Guilt in a Fluid Society?”

April 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Brinkmann, Svend 2010. Guilt in a Fluid Society? A View from Positioning Theory. Culture & Psychology 16(2): 253-266

[…] ’I cannot keep up’ is replacing ’I want too much’ as a central life problem. Exhaustion is replacing guilt, fear of inadequacy is replacing fear of nonconformity, and depression is replacing neuroses as a dominant social pathology. Unsurprisingly, this is also reflected in our (applied) psychologies, where cognitive therapy and stress management are to a large extent replacing psychoanalysis as iconic therapies. Psychoanalysis would help you adjust; cognitive therapy (stress management, coaching, et cetera) will help you keep up. (254)

[…] we identify emotions by recognizing and assessing their objects. Emotions are first and foremost intentional, directed at objects. We fear something, take pride in something, and are angry with someone. (255)

In addition to their intentionality, emotions also have a normative element. They involve what Harré (1986) calls a local moral order. In this light, emotions have an epistemic dimension. They involve cognition, not of what the world contains (e.g., loved ones and dogs), but of how the world is (e.g., depressing and dangerous). From the normative point of view, emotions must be seen as more or less adequate responses to the events of the world, which is basically and idea that comes from Aristotle. (255)

[…] moral values and ideals can only be upheld in a culture if they resonate emotionally in individuals. Emotions, ideals, and the moral order are deeply interrelated. (256)

I have in addition a reason to feel guilt. Guilt is rooted in human connectedness, and feeling and expressing guilt is a way of manifesting care for others and an attempt to restore interpersonal bonds that may have been broken.

Guilt is thus something one can feel if one has the experience of being the source of some wrongdoing, relative to a local moral order. (256)

Guilt relations are thus not causal (for if A causes B, which causes C, then A is also the cause of C), but normative (Hollis 1977). (257)

If guilt is connected to moral transgressions, we can approach this emotion as perhaps the most significant probe into the moral experiences that are prevalent in our culture. (257)

Instead of reified social structures or transcendent rules allegedly governing social life, positioning theory argues that ’rules are explcit formulations of the normative order which is immanent in concrete human productions’ (Davies & Harré 1999: 33). […] Positioning theory is built on the premise that the human social world is first and foremost a normative moral order. Normativities establish social order, continuities, and connections across space and time; between situations, reasons, and actions. (257)

Positions consist of rights to do certain things, to act in specific ways, and also of (moral) duties to be taken up and acted upon in specific ways.

Every socially significant action, including speech, as Harré and Moghaddam (2003) point out, must be interpreted as an act; that is, not just as an intended action […] but as an intelligible and meaningful performane (the handshake can be a greeting, a farewell, a seal, et cetera). An action is given meaning within social practices and as part of some unfolding narrative, and once it is interpreted within a given social episode, it is subject to norms of correctness. (258)

[…] ascribing emotions to oneself and to others is a central aspect of social life. It is also a significant part of human socialization, where parents and educators consistently attempt to position children by stating which specific emotions they should appropriately feel. (259)

What Bauman calls consumer society is also an experience society, where elite sport ranks among the most popular experiential commodities, affecting not just individuals, but also whole nations […] (261)

[…] guilt is still a relevant emotion, but that it has acquired a more complex status in fluid, postmodern culture. An argument can be made that there are limits as to the possible fluidity of the norms of any culture. In order for people to live together in fairly ordered ways, they have to have norms (rather than a-nomie) […] Although guilt may not be a biologically hardwired basic emotion or have a universally recognized facial expression, it may still be universal, although in a sociocultural rather than biological sense. (265)