Notes on: Zembylas, M. (2007) 'Emotional capital and education: Theoretical insights from Bourdieu'. British Journal of Educational Studies 55(4): 443--63. DOI 10/1111/j.1467-8527.2007.00390.x

Dave Harris

Bourdieu's work helps us avoid nasty dualisms including those between subject and object, agency/structure, private/public, and nature/culture.  He discusses embodiment and the link with social reproduction.  Embodiment and the emphasis on practice 'maps emotions on to experiences' (443).  Emotions have been increasingly discussed and  investigated in a number of ways, and critical pedagogues are interested in them.  Emotions are managed in interpersonal relations and on the social level.  Affect is also been discussed in terms of their bodies capacities.  Bourdieu, and the notions of 'habitus, field, and capital' can add further insights.

The concept of emotional capital is particularly significant, and implications are explored both for Zembylas's own practice and for educational research.  Emotional capital can be seen as a matter of emotional resources which contribute to the generation of a habitus.  It can also be used to understand 'emotion practices as forms of resistance'(444), particularly useful in challenging 'functionalist and determinist' accounts of the need to develop and exploit emotional capital, for example in work on emotional intelligence.  This article explore as the notion of emotional capital and its role in affective economies, and is linked to current ethnographic work.

Emotions can be seen as both 'signs for bodily states and cultural categories' (445), but affective experiences precede emotions.  Ethnography helps us to theorize the embodiment of emotions—affect is experienced first then 'named and reexperienced through social relations and culture'.  The basic affects are 'anger, fear, disgust and so on' and are universal, although emotions very culturally and socially.  Emotions arise from membership of groups and interactions, and are not simply bodily or biological: they depend on 'ongoing relational practices' (446), including the way in which individuals are defined and separated from the social. Ahmed has coined the term '"affective economies"', showing how intensities and energies circulate and get attached to 'objects, bodies and signs', and thereby constitute subjectivity.  Emotions separate us from and help us connect to others: for example hate is circulated [and amplified by] groups, and is constantly used in the processes of differentiation.  Probyn argues that affective experiences become part of the habitus, a system of dispositions, and this enables us to conduct every day life.  Embodied experiences 'coincide with objective structures' for Bourdieu, however.  It follows that if we want to change emotional performances, we need to readjust our habitus [but can this be done?].

We can connect this to Williams's notion of structures of feeling, as another 'bridge between social structures and…  individual[s]' (447).  We can use his concept to understand what goes on in educational contexts, and to understand 'challenges to these norms'.  Generally, normal emotions regulate individuals, and 'reflect power relations'. As a result, they are 'techniques for the discipline of habitus' in emotional expressions and communication.

Bourdieu develops connected concepts like 'habitus, field and capital'.  The habitus provides dispositions which guide strategies, and dispositions involve both cognitive and affective factors.  The habitus is a product of history, but appears as a second nature, and this is how individuals cope with social circumstances, and how institutions 'produce real effects on individuals'.  The habitus appears as commonsense, some kind of bodily knowledge, as in the politics of gender and how this governs the way in which men and women might walk and talk.  The habitus was refined in the later work as something more adaptable or '"transposable"'(448).  Embodied practice is strongly influenced, but not completely determined by, social and historical and cultural contexts.  The habitus is dynamic, and 'thus is not wholly structured'.  The habitus can be seen as displaying an affective economy, moving emotional capital around, and investing it in particular actions, and this also makes it not a fully deterministic: it generates practices.  It can be seen as 'the site of transformative emotion practices', and it can offer a 'potential for innovation'. 

Anthropological examples of the flexibility of conduct with others shows the possibilities—traditional behaviours can be adjusted. Bourdieu sees the field as a social arena for struggles over resources and other relations, which contain their own rules of the game.  Fields are regions of the world which define the situation, 'structured systems of social positions' (449.  Again they do not completely determine action, however, and there is room for negotiation.  The possession of different sorts of capital assumes specific significance in their specific fields. There are various forms of capital, including 'economic, cultural and social'[and these are defined]. We might need a broader understanding of cultural capital to include its affective aspects, according to Reay and Skeggs.  The accumulation of social capital is important in the overall 'battle for distinction' (450), and it can be seen as offering emotional resources as well as setting 'norms and obligations'.  Bourdieu is unusual in arguing that social capital is 'ubiquitous and continually transmitted' as well as accumulated in ways that help of reproduction of existing social structures.

Forms of capital can be transformed into each other.  Combinations explain the different fractions of social classes.  They also explain how cultures are generated by social mechanisms, for example schooling.  By discussing the link between capital and power, Bourdieu 'comes close to Foucault's analysis of power' in the sense that power depends on relations in different fields.  There is also a 'potential for subversion' from these movements of different sorts of capital and different fields [well -- changes in the balance of power between fractions of the bourgeoisie] .

We can work towards an notion of emotional capital here, although Bourdieu never uses the term.  Other sociologists of education have developed this notion, however, including Gillies, Reay, or Colley.  Reay admits that the concept is better as a heuristic device, however, but sees emotional capital as referring to access to emotionally valued skills and assets, largely possessed by women.  We're talking about the emotional resources including 'support, patients and commitment' usually associated with women.  Reay also refers to emotional resources being passed from mothers to children, and mothers' involvement in education specifically: emotional capital is seen 'as an investment in others'(451).  There is a dispute about whether poverty diminishes emotional capital.

These issues show how emotional capital is social, but there is a danger that it will be seen exclusively in terms of 'a parenting model' (452).  There is also an underlying notion that we can see the deployment of these capital in terms of realizing profits, but it is complex, and extends beyond what parents do in terms of their children's benefits.  There is also the danger that 'traditional emotion discourses' suggesting that women are the ones who have more caring and more emotional, might be implied: Reay is careful to say that this is so only in the context of pparent involvement in education.  Colley on the 'vocational habitus' in FE suggests that there are certain ways which dictate how one should look and act, and feel, when trying to acquire a job , drawing on the original Hochschild study of emotional labour.  The term has a Marxist origin, and suggest that people have to suppress or induce feelings as part of their occupational role, manage their emotions to fit the needs of the organisation.  Colley suggests that in patriarchal societies, emotional capital is a particularly good at expressing inequalities of power, and wants to reintroduce the notion of exploitation of women's resources by criticising Reay: women's 'available repertoires of feeling' are the result of a particular mode of production, and individuals have to work on these feelings.

Zembylas's own interests have a different source, and are also related to ethnographic research, both by himself and by others.  For example, he has shown how emotional capital can be built over time, and can contribute to particular affective economies.  Emotional capital can be circulated between teachers and students to produce feelings of empowerment.  However, he has learned that 'the possibility of change…  are not limitless'.  An ethnographic study of ethnic conflict in Europe shows that resentment and hatred can arise, based on the supposed evil of the other, and this is supported by the emotional practices in education, and this can help to both reproduce and destabilise 'dominant national, social and cultural taxonomies'.  An ethnocentric habitus can appear, and it can become active in normalising feelings and actions, requiring adaptation to 'the emotional demands of the hegemonic culture' (454).  Even here, however, 'the habitus contains important ambivalence and tension', and even hatred 'is full of contradiction and uncertainty and is not (always) absolute'.  This helps educators locate hate in individual needs and social and political struggles, focusing on the practices in which hate is constituted.  Socialisation is not just a passive absorption of dominant affects, and these are experienced and circulated in particular ways, which can be analysed.

The study shows the relation between emotional and other forms of capital in the circulations between social groups.  With hatred, emotional resources can be withheld, and other emotional resources distributed in such a way as to produce feelings of nationality and culture, and subjectivity in general.  Such emotional resources separate self from other and connect selves to others.  Emotional capital can turn into cultural capital in the form of dispositions about others, and social capital, since relationships and networks with the others are also affected.  It is also possible for individuals to understand their relation to their social group differently, 'as they acknowledge the politics of difference' (455): here, a 'richer emotional understanding of the Other' helps new dispositions emerge.  We can see how emotional capital is not just restricted to issues of gender and class and their effects on involvement in schooling: like other forms of capital, there are 'complex manifestations'.

There are dangers in using the concept emotional capital in educational research.  First it seems too closely associated with economic theory, and second that it has already been 'coopted by management and functionalist discourses' in discussions of the exploitation of human capital [he includes Goleman in this] (456).  Emotional intelligence often mean self control, related to new forms of morality, efficiency and professionalism, a disciplinary technology.  It gets stripped of its social and political context and its role in cultural difference and hierarchy.  This is the opposite of what Bourdieu was arguing, according to Reay: the point was to argue that intelligence alone, of any kind, was not the key to success or failure.  Emotional capital itself varies in terms of its symbolic value, and it has a crucial role in reproducing capitalist equality.

We need to retain the links with politics, and use it to understand the importance of emotions and affects and the circulation of capital generally.  We need to see 'how previously established emotional capital — solidarity, trust, hope, loyalty, enmity and so forth — may influence later practices' (457), to see how it operates in particular contexts.  The relational concepts of field and habitus offer a way of understanding these contexts, showing how identity emerges collectively, and how barriers are drawn between groups.  There is 'a collective body - field' which is not just individual, and characteristic emotional patterns belonging to different social groups.  We can now see how categories like those of race or religion are underpinned by emotional investments, how emotions connect individuals to groups with a sense of belonging, how affective economies are established that 'actively manipulate emotions for political purposes'(458) and add value to particular affects.  This also helps us retain a focus on 'the materiality of the body' since emotion is embodied, and often displayed by bodies.  It also provides for the possibility of 'theorizing change'.

The emphasis might well be on reproduction rather than change, but there is an implicit conceptualisation of change in Bourdieu's work, because 'the historicisation of norms is acknowledged', and this can help to show the contingency of such norms in education [he refers to his own earlier work].  The project will be to identify 'weak points and lines of fracture' where new connections can become counter hegemonic.  Analysis can reveal the role of particular affective economies.  Individuals are never entirely subsumed by objective structures, and 'professional and classroom communities are able to constitute habituses that have the potential to subvert disciplinary mechanisms and practices' [in theory, as a hope?  What about the sources of inconsistency actually identified by Bourdieu?].

We need to grasp and extend Bourdieu's work in education, to acknowledge the role of emotions, and to examine socio-political contexts.  It is part of a much larger debate about subjectivities in classrooms.  Analysis will help us move between 'possible and real transformation', or at least theorize its difference.  We need to focus on how emotional capital is converted to other capitals to guide ethnographic work.  Understanding possibilities and limitations will help us assess the value of emotional capital [is a concept do you mean?].

A note refers to work suggesting that emotions are now controlled more in terms of group conformity and peer reaction, as part of a general trend towards the informal in western societies.  This puts even more emphasis on emotional self restraint.

References include one which crops up quite a lot in the other work: Barbalet, J.  (1998) Emotion, Social Theory, and Social Structure: A Macrosociological Approach.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  There are lots of useful commentaries on Bourdieu, and lots more Zembylas.

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