Fault Lines of Emotion Cultures: On the Clash of Feeling Rules in the Context of Migration

A question of crucial importance for social anthropological research on emotion as well as on migration concerns the intra- and interpersonal conflicts that emerge with the clash of antagonistic ‘feeling rules’ (Hochschild 1983) in multi-cultural societies. This question will be explored on the basis of the study of the specific tensions that migrants are exposed to, who have been emotionally socialised according to cultural norms that stress (or ‘hypercognize’, Levy 1993) shame and honour, but are now living in a society that – like Germany – downplays these emotional dimensions.

This research question is based on the theoretical assumption that emotions are shaped to a large extent by cultural and social factors. Culture-specific emotion concepts are seen as a kind of social ‘orientation model’ that allows individuals to interpret, categorise and communicate the multiple experiences they face in distinct life-situations. These social emotional models create social references; they link the individuals to the social structures of their world and motivate their behaviour. These theoretical considerations lead to the question of how individuals, who live “between” two cultures, deal with antagonistic emotion models. How do they solve conflicts emerging from this plurality? To which emotional models do they turn? Do they form hybrids or do they orient themselves on different emotional codes depending on the social context? Is it even possible to switch between different emotional codes?

Methodologically, the research objective will be considered by means of a narrative approach. A promising first step is seen in the growing body of so-called “immigrant literature” (autobiographies, novels, short stories), which is widely neglected in German social anthropology. Many of these texts, many of the them the product of Turkish immigrants of the “second or third generation” focus on aspects of shame, honour and dishonour and reveal “thick descriptions” of the social and psychological tension resulting out of antagonistic emotional cultures. The first analytical step will focus on the ways in which the ‘clashes of emotional cultures’ are reflected and described by different authors. Which conventional tropes and narratives are used, which are reformulated or even created anew? The last aspect refers to the social contexts in which these texts are received or dealt with. Some texts of this genre are read at schools with a significant proportion of children with an immigrant background or are discussed in youth clubs, immigration centres or internet chats. An analysis of these different contexts may shed light on the processes of collective meaning-making and may point to what extent the actors are creating new languages of emotion to express their experiences, thus constructing specific categories of “in-between-emotions”.

Further social fields in which antagonistic emotional models are negotiated and verbalised are psychotherapeutic treatment or in the course of legal procedures (such as in cases of “honour crimes” and “honour murder”). Here the problem is naturally one of gaining access to documentation, although classical ethnography in court is a legitimate option.

In a later phase of the project, research will be extended to the analysis of further social arenas (e.g. schools, immigration offices and centres, hospitals, workplaces etc.) marked by the tensions and conflicts resulting from the diverse emotional-cultural imprinting of the individual actors. Initially, however, immigrant autobiographies, which constitute an important medium of reflection and reformulation of cultural discourses on emotion, will be addressed.

The overall aim of the project is twofold: on the empirical level the intention is to introduce the problem of conflicting emotional cultures into social anthropological research on migration processes; on the theoretical level the goal is to contribute to the social theory of human agency by integrating the component of emotion into the debate.

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