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T.M. Luhrmann “Subjectivity”

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Luhrmann, T.M. 2006. Subjectivity. Anthropological Theory 6(3): 345-361

‘Subjectivity’ is a term loosely used by anthropologists to refer to the shared inner life of the subject, to the way subjects feel, respond, experience. (345

[…] subjectivity implies the emotional experience of a political subject, the subject caught up in a world of violence, state authority and pain, the subject’s distress under the authority of another. (346)

Whether we are anthropologists or not, we use the word subjectivity to refer to the way the subject thinks and feels – but above all to the way to the subject feels, often about what he or she thinks. To sort out the social part of emotion helps us to sort out the shared inner life anthropologists seek to understand. A psychological model of emotion, that is, can deliver to us an anthropological model of subjectivity. (349)

There are, then, two emotion factors that seem in some crude way universal, common to all human bodies: physiology and facial expressions. And there is elusive, unknowable feeling. The final three factors are social. (351)

[…] people are good at masking what they feel, and most of us rapidly alter our faces to comply with social demands that we be a certain sort of person, feeling some emotions and not others. These are ‘display rules’, social rules about who can show what feeling to whom, and they are a clear domain in which the social shapes the emotional. This is the fourth of the six factors in the model of emotion. And this is what anthropologists are good at describing. (352)

Appraisal is the fifth of the six factors […] (352) The anthropological point, of course, is that the same events can trigger different appraisals, and thus different emotional responses, in different individuals and in differ-ent settings. Psychoanalysts and psychotherapists are experts in the variations among individuals, experts in the way individuals have chosen appraisal styles which were once adaptive and are no longer, at least not by the time they come to a therapist for help. Anthropologists are experts in the differences between groups. (353-354)

The sixth factor in the six-factor model of the emotions is the representation of emotion in a culture, and in particular the words which a culture has available to identify and describe emotional states. (354)

Six factors: feeling, physiology, facial expression, display rules, appraisals (primary and secondary) and representations. The point of delineating each of these six factors is that all of them are present in the experience of an emotion, and yet none of them determine that emotional experience. (355)

Emotions are the way we make fundamental judgments on the rightness or wrongness of social acts. (355)

Social expectations reach deep within our bodies. Socially regulated words identify the feelings we are thought to feel, the events which trigger them, the display which governs what a good and proper man should do under provocation or in dread. (355)

The six-feature model of emotions helps us to understand that Ortner is attending to the socially shared elements of the six factors of emotion – appraisal, display, and representation. That is not all of subjectivity, but it is the part of subjectivity that lies squarely in the anthropological domain and that the anthropological method is uniquely good at assessing. (356)

If subjectivity is the emotional experience of a political subject, then to articulate the psychological structure of the emotion only gives us more evidence to argue that power is inscribed upon our bodies and that moral judgment is a visceral act. (359)

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