Anthropologist Catherine Lutz considers emotions, not as personal and natural physiological states of the body, but as public indexes of cultural relationships:

“The concept of emotion plays a central role in the Western view of the world. While words like ‘envy,’ ‘love,’ and ‘fear’ are invoked by anyone who would speak about the self, about the private, about the intensely meaningful, or about the ineffable, they are also used to talk about devalued aspects of the world–the irrational, the uncontrollable, the vulnerable, and the female.

“Both sides of what can be seen as an ambivalent Western view of emotion are predicated, however, on the belief that emotion is in essence a psychobiological structure and an aspect of the individual. The role of culture in the experience of emotion is seen as secondary, even minimal, from that perspective.

“Culture or society can do little more than highlight or darken particular areas of the given psychobiological structure of emotions by, for example, repressing the expression of anger in women, calling for smiles to mask natural feelings of fear in certain situations, or emphasizing shame in one society and guilt in another.

“And while emotions are often seen as evoked in communal life, they are rarely presented as an index of social relationship rather than as a sign of a personal state.”

Advertisements