Ficha de leitura: Unnatural Emotions – Catherine A. Lutz

LUTZ, Catherine A. Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Although the value of emotion as symbol is not dependent on some objective relationship to the body, my aim is not to cut the body out of emotions or simply to civilize them. It is not to deconstruct an overly naturalized and rigidly bounded concept of emotion, to treat emotion as an ideological practice rather then as a thing to be discovered or an essence to be distilled. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 4)


As Clifford has noted of culture itself, emotion is “contested, temporal, and emergent” (1986:19). Once de-essentialized, emotion can be viewed as a cultural and interpersonal process of naming, justifying, and persuading by people in relatioship to each other. Emotional meaning is then a social rather than an individual achievement–an emergent product of social life. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 5)

This book attempts to demonstrate how emotional meaning is fundamentally structured by particular cultural systems and particular social and material environments. The claim is made that emotional experience is not precultural but preeminently cultural. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 5)


Talk about emotions is simultaneously talk about society–about power and politics, about kinship and marriage, about normality and deviance–as several anthropologists have begun to document (Abu-Lughod 1986; Fajans 1985; Myers 1979; Rosaldo 1980). (LUTZ, 1988, p. 6)


Rosaldo sees emotions as forms of symbolic action whose articulation with other aspects os cultural meaning and social structure is primary (see also Myers 1979; Shore 1982). More than her predecessors, she explores the importance of emotions for a theory of culture and social action. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 6)


Like Foucault, I am interested in how the emotions–like other aspects of a culturally postulated psyche–are “the place in which the most minute and local social practices are linked up with the large scale organization of power” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983:xxvi). (LUTZ, 1988, p. 7)


The process of coming to understand the emotional lives of people in different cultures can be seen first and foremost as a problem of translation. What must be translated are the meanings of the emotion words spoken in everyday conversation, of the emotionally imbued events of everyday life, of tears and other gestures, and of audience reaction to emotional performance. The interpretative task, then, is not primarily to fathom somehow “what they are feeling” inside (Geertz 1976) but rather to translate emotional communications from one idiom, context, language, or sociohistorical mode of understanding into another. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 8)


The split between emotion and thought goes under several other rubrics, including the more academic and psychological “affect” and “cognition,” the more romantic and philosophical “affect” and “reason,” and the more prosaic “feeling” and “thinking.” The distinction between them takes as central a place in Western psychosocial theory as do those between mind and body, behavior and intention, the individual and the social, or the conscious and the unconscious, structuring (as do those other contrasts) innumerable aspects of experience and discourse. Encoded in or related to that contrast is an immense portion of the Western worldview of the person, of social life, and of morality. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 56)


[…] emotion shares a fundamental characteristic with thought in this epistemological view, which is that both are internal characteristics of persons. The essence of both emotion and thought are to be found within the boundaries of the person; they are features of individuals rather than of situations, relationships, or moral positions. In other words, they are construed as psychological rather than social phenomena. Although social, historical, and interpersonal processes are seen as correlated with these psychic events, thought and emotion are taken to be the property of individuals. Thought and emotion also share the quality of being viewed as more authentic realities and more truly the repository of the self in comparison with the relative inauthenticity of speaking and other forms of interaction (LUTZ, 1988, p. 56)


[…] emotion stands against estrangement or disengagement. […] While the emotional is generally treated as the inferior member of the set in the emotion/thought contrast, here the evaluation is reversed. It is better, most would agree, to be emotional than to be dead or alienated.

This sense of emotional is a Romantic one. The nineteenth-century tubercular patient is one cultural exemplar of the value placed then as now on feeling. Tuberculosis was the result of it’s bearer’s “sensitive” soul: “TB was thought to come from too much passion, afflicting the reckless and sensual…[it] was celebrated as a disease of the passion” (Sontag 1977:21). Emotionality in this sense may be tragic, but it is correspondingly heroic to feel. To be emotional is to understand deeply (even if too deeply) rather than to fail to see and know. If emotion in this sense is not necessarily affiliated with the notion of “rationality,” it is at least a cousin to “wisdom.” (LUTZ, 1988, p. 57).


American culture cannot maintain a single account of emotion as the irrational or the nonthoghtful, just as it cannot consistently hold apart the dualistic poles of mind and body, self and other, male and female, or private and public. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 59)


One of the most pervasive cultural assumptions about the emotional is that it is antithetical to reason or rationality. An evaluative concept, rationality is generally used to talk about actions and ideas that are “sensible,” tham seem sane or reasonable, and that are based on socially accepted ways of reasoning about problems. Rationality is closely related to intelligence, which in Euramerican thought is defined as the ability to solve problems, particularly those whose assigned parameters are technical rather than social or moral (Lutz and LeVine 1983). Rationality is, then, culturally associated more with practical action in the world than with contemplation or feeling. Both rationality [60] and intelligence are taken as signs of mental vigor and of the potential for success in one’s endeavors; both are morally approbated. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 59-60)


The emphasis on this association between the emotional and the physical is especially strong in twentieth-century academic psychology. Take, for example, the definition given by Tomkins, whose view of emotion is one of the most influential of the contemporary psychological theories: “affects are sets of widely muscular and glandular responses located in the face and also widely distributed throughout the body, which generate sensory feedback that is either inherently ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable’” (1980:142). Lévi-Strauss also draws on this cultural connection when he writes, “Emotions…are always results either of the power of the body or the impotence of the mind” (1963:71). Although cognitive theories of emotion have been developed more recently (e.g., Beck 1971; Lazarus 1977; Mandler 1975) in an attempt to balance the other view with a concern for the ways cognition regulates emotion, “feelings” or perceived psychological state changes remain central to the definition of emotion in these theories as well. An example of this is found in the work of Kleinman, who defines two types of emotion, including “primary” affects, or “uncognized universal psychological experiences” (1980:173), which are transformed into “secondary” (and culturally specific) affects through cognitive process of perception, labeling, and evaluation. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 66)


The emotions create the possibility for this individuality in at least two ways. First, they constitute individual opinion. It is only I who have these particular emotions, opinions, and values. From this perspective, emotions are Me in a way that thoughts are not. Because thoughts can be objective, they will be the same in whatever mind they appear. Feelings, however, are subjective; they therefore are not completely communicable, and very possibly are uniquely my own. It is, then, impossible, in the parlance of this culture, to speak literally about “our emotions” or, conversely, to speak of someone as an individual who is not unique, a uniqueness which is achieved in part through his or her emotions. (LUTZ, 1988, p. 71)


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