Missing Emotion: The Limitations of Cultural Constructionism in the Study of Emotion

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Essay Excerpt

The cultural constructionist approach to emotion has real limitations. I say this because emotion is more than a domain of cultural conception, more than mere construction, and thus cannot be treated merely as parallel to constructions such as self and person in the sense that they are used in most of cultural anthropology. Person and self seem to function as intermediate constructs, as "surrogate symbols" or complexes thereof, which function to mystify the relationships they are meant to encompass. To treat such domains of cultural inquiry, including emotion, as different sets of ethnographic information, each of which may inform the construction of meaning in the other, seems a form of chasing one's own tail. Emotions simply become subsumed to the concept of person as culturally constructed. The defining of one subject in terms of others within the same cultural context does not simply risk circularity, it restricts our ability to ask more fundamental questions about the subjects of concern, including their bases in different social and bodily forms. Culture itself is not, of course, self-sustaining; it has a basis in social organization and practices, and is subject to change. Nor is it, in itself, capable of producing identifiable effects independent of its rootedness in social structure and social praxis (247-248). 

Lyon, Margot. "Missing Emotion: The Limitations of Cultural Constructionism in the Study of Emotion." Cultural Anthropology 10.2(1995): 244–263.

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