Notes on: Zembylas, M. (2002) '"Structures of feeling" in curriculum and teaching: theorizing the emotional rules'. Educational Theory 52(2): 187-208.

Dave Harris

[V good early piece on emotions as regulation etc]

Lots of work has criticized the usual convention that the emotions are irrational, insisting that they have a cognitive dimension 'and thus are not opposed to reason' (187).  There is a history of emotions, and a cultural dimension: anthropological research often focuses on specific emotions including 'shame, anger, and depression'.  There is a new interest in the emotions of teaching and the emotional politics of educational reform with implications for teacher education.  Most of this develops a 'social constructionist position' focused on interpersonal relations.  A different perspective might involve looking at 'discursive structures and normative practices 'which affect teaching and its practice.  This article looks at emotional rules, using Raymond Williams's conception of structures of feeling.  This is compared with Foucault as a poststructuralist.  Williams is a Marxist, and thought and culture are seen as hegemony which penetrates into the self.  Cultures arise from the dialectic within overall hegemony, involving the usual social categories, including age and locality.  We can use his framework as an heuristic. Emotions as cultural formations are clearly important in the formation of teacher identity and in power relations.  Teacher subjectivity is constituted by power relations and governs their conduct.  The discourses that constitute emotions and how they might function can be analyzed [and divided according to whether they assist domination or resistance].


Williams developed cultural studies as an interdisciplinary field, and saw culture as a material and productive process, entering lived experience.  Elite literature and culture could be understood in the same way, produced by a social process with 'complex relations among authorial ideology, institutional process, and aesthetic form' (189).  The term ‘structures of feeling’ is 'notoriously slippery and deliberately flexible' and used differently at different times.  The term itself seems contradictory.  It appeared first in an attempt to link dramatic conventions and written notations in drama, isolating the conventions involved.  The structure of feeling was something residual, governing 'total or common experience of the period' [so relatively autonomous].  It was used originally to analyse actual literary works.  The later work [Culture and Society] offers three different sets of meanings: something that can be apprehended directly which gifted people can operate; the specific attribute of novels in the 1840s; as a kind of ideology or false consciousness.  There is no theoretical elaboration, but there are assertions that a structure feeling is 'neither universal nor class specific'[weasel] (190), and not formally learned.


The Long Revolution has a more theoretical account, as some underlying structure, implicit, something that affects the general culture but never in a tightly deterministic way, operating at the aesthetic and the individual level.  The problem was to explain actual experience and its link with general culture or 'social character' (191) [and he was not a sociologist but a luvvie marxist, so of course he struggled].  We can try to understand it by looking at past examples and seeing how they are connected, but even then, it is hard to fully grasp 'the quality of life', ways of thinking and living.  In the present it is more promising, because experiences are immediately available, although early critics in New Left Review suggest that the present is too interactive, too transitional.  Williams's reply agrees that we must look behind the flux of immediate experiences to establish and grasp the structure.  He refers to some 'deep community' as producing potential social relations which have not yet come to consciousness—feeling rather than world view or ideology.  Again, the NLR critics were skeptical about whether this could be uncovered by working with the texts—texts were too autonomous, structures of feeling on the other hand were not autonomous.


Williams replied, in Marxism and Literature, saying that reality was indeed mediated, although not all experience is ideological and nor is the classic humanist subject.  The structure of feeling lay somewhere between ideology and immediate experience.  Again critics have argued that these points arise from the discipline of English, so that the subject takes on a political role as agent, while experience does address the idea of life processes, which may indeed be contaminated by ideology, but which still have a creative role in making culture.  W recognizes that 'structures of experience' gets close as the term he wants, but sees this as risking being defined as something past: structures of feeling helps us get at lived experience in the present, from the point of view of the participant.


This text also offers the most explicit theorizing.  Structures of feeling now are not just emergent but 'preemergent', something active but not yet articulated, something available to immediate experience and yet generational he specific when it comes to artistic processes.  Something that exceeds the usual social norms, and that bridges practical consciousness and official consciousness or formal culture [too rigorously separated in Marxism for him].  Oppositions to official consciousness can be experienced as something embryonic, before it becomes articulated and expressed in conscious thought.  This feeling can contradict consciously-held ideologies, at the level of practical consciousness and the subjective [gets close to a sociology of the everyday here?  Like de Certeau?].  Feelings are expressed in characteristic ways, '"elements of impulse, restraint, and tone...thought as felt"'(193).  These terms express emotions.


Nevertheless, the structures are socially experienced, leading to a possible connection by social formations.  We might start with structures of feeling as '"a cultural hypothesis"' (194), an initial attempt to sketch out dimensions of experience, without forgetting that these are also 'felt and embodied'.  Structures of feeling therefore bridge language and embodiment.  They explain how ideologies also contain 'emotional investments' which are often implicit in our common sense.  Experience itself features an '"endless comparison...between the articulated and the lived"', and this disjunction and mediation is never fully articulated, but appears as '"disturbance, tension, blockage, emotional trouble"'. 


We can analyse social change in terms of shifts in cultural forms which depend on affective processes but which are also mediated and structured.  This also helps us realise that the activities even of dominant social groups are never fully articulated and never separated from cultural knowledge.  Structures of feeling are the dynamic aspects which permit variation from the existing social order, the emergence of new forms of thought and cultural work.  It is not the only factor in change, but it is something that helps us understand and articulate change: it is a solution to changes affecting experience.  It is oppositional.  We can see its effect at specific historical moments when new cultural work appears as a moment of recognition of changing experience, and makes the familiar strange and vice versa. Williams admitted that the term still had problems, and said it was probably better at understanding literary or dramatic writing than reconciling theoretical difficulties: one critic suggested that Williams opposed systematic theorizing any way in principle.


We might use the notion of structures of feeling to describe emotional cultures in schools and in teachers work.  It would help us realise first that school culture appears in teacher socialisation in terms of affective elements; that ideology and immediate experience might be contradictory; that experience is social and material, and requires '"emotion work"' (195); that structures of feeling are particularly subversive elements within more general school culture.  The latter emerges more clearly when we consider Foucault on power and discourse below.


As an example of something to be investigated, we might consider the demands of professionalism as requiring teachers to work with particular sets of emotions rather than spontaneity, to do 'emotional labour' and 'emotion management' (196).  Freud has already explained that emotion work involves 'conscious efforts to shape emotional expression', but there is an issue of what is appropriate expression, and this refers to social norms.  Emotional work is not just repressing emotions, as the classic study of emotional labour by Hochschild [much discussed] reveals—it involves cognitive efforts to change ideas and thoughts by changing emotions, bodily efforts to control physical symptoms, and expressive effects related to developing suitable gestures to change feelings [all these are the better solution than just acting, which causes stress].  Williams goes further in pointing out the active elements and a potential for change and opposition.  We still need to show how these teacher stories are linked to the wider school culture.  This will help us see emotions as 'matters of history, location, and bodies...elements of relationality continually shaped and reshaped by language, embodiments, personal biography, and interactions with others' (197).


The context is the school structure and norms, and how this affects teacher experience, or something that must be sometimes confronted or transformed.  Williams's concept does help us to see how lived experience is constructed by emotion work.  Teachers can clearly experience themselves as vulnerable, threatened by the school context, and this can lead to negotiated meanings about roles and relations.  Recognising our own feelings and their effect, especially their negative effects when they become 'anxious, ambivalent, and aggressive' helps us critique the school culture and the social order.  However, we need some Foucault first.


The suggestion is that Williams's structures of feeling can be ‘assimilated’ to French poststructuralism rather than Marxism.  It might have a critical potential as well, restoring the anti humanism in Foucault and opposing his pessimism and formalism.  Conventional bourgeois humanism is still rejected, but there is always a potential for 'freedom development and change' (198) in common human experience, something that can see opportunities at the pre-emergent stage.  Foucault sees no necessary progress towards emancipation here, however, 'only difference and rupture, no progress'.  His antihumanism deepens in his genealogical approach to the constitution of knowledge [eg in the Archaeology of Knowledge].  There is no underlying human community.


Nevertheless, both have an interest in deconstructing emotional roles and in the emergence of fields of possibility.  Both see that 'institutional and discursive practices, powers, and knowledges are inextricably linked' (199).  Both reject economic determinism.  Both stress the role of unspoken norms and rules or 'regimes of truth', and these include emotions.  Both find themselves wanting to modify their own cultural traditions—British humanism or French structuralism—rejecting objectivism and 'normativity' [sociologism?].


Borrowing Foucault helps us develop the third possibility above, linking teachers self understanding with a broader politics of emotions, the personal with the historical and political.  We can go on to explain 'modalities of teacher emotion as social and political' and as a dynamic force in emotional culture at school.  We see this best with the 'construction and deconstruction of emotional rules' (200).


Hochschild has already referred to rules of feeling, norms and standards that affect inner experiences in particular settings.  These define what we should feel, what is acceptable.  We learn these rules from watching the emotional displays of others.  Breaking the rules involves costs.  Power relations are necessarily involved, and these can equally be seen as disciplinary techniques to regulate humour and differences.  Emotions are classified, for example, and some become deviant.  They cover acceptable language, particular ethical and emotional territory, personal attributes, goals and pitfalls.  They produce very specific models for teachers, for example in controlling anger and expressing empathy and kindness.  They require both verbal and non verbal expression.  Teachers have to examine and regulate themselves, becoming subjects as in Foucault.


Rules are often disguised as ethical codes or professional and pedagogical techniques—for example requiring an objective and neutral approach to school problems which is really explicit, and which is a problem for new teachers.  Such objectivity and neutrality permits a link with ideology.  Not all teachers agree and some value emotional responses, more personal ones.  Others learn to be neutral and objective by focusing on events not individuals.  Different techniques like this require different sorts of emotional labour, and different sorts of connection between discourses and the expression of emotions.  Not managing this well enough is often a reason for teacher burnout, usually described in terms of 'emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or a negative shift in responses to others, and decreased sense of personal accomplishment' (202).  It is often seen as the loss of the real self, but it can be understood instead as a failure to understand and construct personal identity according to disciplinary forces [or a positive opposition to those forces?].


Are emotional rules simply imposed?  Williams will help us here by pointing to the 'space between authorized and unauthorized emotion discourse and expression', the clash between practical and official consciousness and the emotions that this produces.  For example, emotions of anger or excitement are illegitimate except in private, but lived experience constantly raises problems.  This can lead to coded conflicts in classrooms, or feelings of vulnerability.  This can lead to teacher resistance and pressure to change the rules to become less oppressive [what?  To permit anger?  To resist management policing?].


Foucault helps us point to the general role of discipline and regulation, in the formation of subjectivity in discursive practices.  There is no true self which escapes such practices, including no real and emotional natural self.  Instead we need to look at forms of regulation and their effects, 'a genealogy of emotions in teaching' (203).  We can focus on the effects of regimes of truth and whether they lead to self regulation of teachers.  We can see that emotional rules are historically contingent and arbitrary.  We can acknowledge the positive aspects of power.  This helps us see that teachers often control themselves through various 'technologies of the self' (204), but this can be liberating as well as constraining.


Back to Williams.  Williams and Foucault differ over whether there is progress or difference.  For Foucault, teachers are offered a choice between emotional regimes.  They differ over the role of experience and the mechanism of reification.  However, both are interested in the relation of the social and individual and the role played by feelings and emotions.  For Foucault, there is a possibility of extremely 'detailed structure of space, time, and relations among individuals'.  We can also see how emotional roles are expressed and embodied, even in the design of school spaces [as in Panopticon of course], how teachers are rewarded or punished, how particular emotions are maximised while others are constrained, and the role played by particular knowledges in psychology and pedagogy.


We can identify possible tensions between individual and the social from Williams, and the ways in which lived experience can contradict even the smooth rationalizations of school managers.  It seems, for example, that as emotion is managed more and more, 'people are feeling more and more alienated' (205).  There is a continuing tension between spontaneity and control of the emotions.  This can affect the authenticity of the individual, and produce inauthentic compliance to emotional rules, which Williams noticed.  Despite problems with the terms authenticity, there is at least the suggestion that counternarratives of emotion can emerge, and even be seen as central to the teacher identity, expressing 'feeling, resistance, and choice'.


Resistance is ever present, and teachers can refuse to conform fully.  Sometimes they can change emotional roles.  However, this sometimes makes them more vulnerable.  Anger may replace feelings of vulnerability and associated shame and guilt, as Boler has argued.  There is an inevitable turbulence.  These matters are not explicitly argued, but are 'means of acting' in the present.  Teachers should be encouraged to analyse 'the multiple, heterogeneous and contingent conditions that have given rise to these rules' (206).  Realizing that emotional labour is needed to overcome discomfort shows how historical and contingent rules are, and where weak points might lie: in this way, experience can lead to transformation.


This sort of work is needed to expand the usual discussions of emotion in education and to ask different questions, to locate the issue in a larger debate about teacher subjectivity, and to uncover 'the social and political character of teacher emotion' (207).  This could lead to transformation, as an example of 'the power of structures of feeling as a tool to subvert the existing conditions'.  Williams has raised many of the initial questions, about experiences and power relations, identity, links between individuals and community and political implications.  Experience on its own is insufficient, but 'the politics of experience are central'.  Williams helps us to see that the personal can become political in certain circumstances, that experience can both replicate and challenge power via the construction of emotional rules.  It can help to avoid both essentialism in humanism and 'strong social constructivism' in poststructuralism: both assume strong determining structures, but Williams's analysis show the problems of tapping structures of feeling because they are often unconscious, inarticulate, contradictory and constantly shifting.  This is what makes them ultimately resistant to codification in emotional rules: they offer the constant possibility of remaking meaning.  The importance lies in using Williams as an heuristic, and we need to see what structures of feeling can help us to do, to problematize and prompt action.

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