Chapter one: considering the social significance of emotion  

ã 2001 Sean Gillen. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

This work was completed in part-fulfilment of an MA Tourism and Leisure. Lancaster University, UK 2000—1, and is reproduced here strictly for scholarly purposes.


In order to be able to investigate the social significance of emotion, it is necessary to gain an appreciation of the important and diverse ways in which it is implicated in everyday life.  From this understanding, it will then be possible to consider, in a more informed way, the most appropriate methods for investigating its significance in tourism.  This chapter takes two distinctive standpoints.  The first suggests that the control of emotion and its expression is a deep underlying element of long-term social development, the second reflects on this in more detail, introducing specific trends, motivations and influences in the expression and experience of emotion, ending with some consideration of ensuing and future repercussions of media and technology.

1.1:  The control of emotional expression

As a starting point, Elias’s (2000 [1939])( see references)  theorising on the ‘civilising process’ provides an important an insight into the significance of emotion in the long-term development of Western society, its strength being in the way in which it draws together the biological and social in ‘a dynamic sociological way’ (Bendelow and Williams 1993:xviii).  For Elias, emotionality is essentially a ‘learned experience’, gained through a process of acculturation, which  “inheres in learning how to distinguish certain bodily sensations and feelings or states of mind as they are evoked in particular social and cultural contexts, as emotions” (Lupton 1998:33).  It is this learning experience that has facilitated the development structures of social and self-control, which have played a significant part in the ongoing civilising of Western society.

Central to this process are the control of emotional behaviour and its expression as violence, and the use and distribution of power.  Essentially, the social development of the monopolisation of force has had the dual effect of demanding the suppression of emotion whilst subsequently ‘freeing’ individuals from the dangers of others’ uncontrolled emotions.  Hence, “life becomes in a sense less dangerous, but also less emotional or pleasurable” (2000:375).  The tempering of such actions involves the development of hindsight and foresight Elias asserts.  This was [and is] necessary for the development of chains of interdependence which themselves enforce a concomitant ‘self-compulsion’ to attune behaviour to that which is conducive to more widespread interaction in the social milieu, which increasingly becomes more diverse and differentiated:

“As more and more people must attune their conduct to that of others, the web of actions must be organised more and more strictly and accurately if each individual is to fulfil its social function.  Individuals are compelled to regulate their conduct in an increasingly differentiated and more stable manner” (2000:367).

This regulation does not cause emotions to merely dissipate however.  As the ‘chains of interdependence’ demand emotional control, the tensions that were once discharged through direct conflict with others is relocated as an ‘inner tension’ in the struggles of the individual “based on the ‘battleground’ of avoidance of shame and embarrassment” (Elias 2000:420).  The need for emotional exchange as a means of resolving this tension is (in part at least) addressed through leisure activities that synthesise the kind of emotional behaviour once rife, by lessening the controls inherent in society in a controlled fashion.  Thus “imaginary danger, mimetic fear and pleasure, sadness and joy are produced and perhaps resolved by the setting of pastimes” (Elias 1986:42).  Activities such as film, dance, painting, art and sport can “produce an enjoyable and controlled de-control of emotions” (Elias 1986:44) through ‘mimesis’ of real life situations but “without the dangers or risk” (1986:42).  Centrally, such activities satisfy a human need for enjoyable excitement and tension resolution.  Moreoever, it is in such pastimes that biological urges that have been controlled by a learned response through acculturation are given a degree of regulated release.  In considering the focus of research presented later, the activities of tourism can also be considered as an important response to the need for emotional engagement, and part of the social process of emotional management.

Scheff (1977) offers a perspective compatible with that of Elias, although building on a psychological rather than social foundation.  Starting from a Freudian perspective, Scheff asserts that negative emotions are accumulated and repressed through unavoidable events of normal lives, yet their discharge is blocked by internal controls which are learnt from childhood, as well as external controls as “we learn to work on each other to suppress [them]” (1977:487).  However, society also provides ritual mechanisms that allow for ‘catharsis’; the essential conscious or unconscious productive experience of emotion that facilitates a state of personal equilibrium and ‘collective solidarity’.  Interestingly, Scheff posits the ‘rituals’ of mass entertainment as potential instigators of catharsis, such as “dramas of suspense, violence, horror, terror and disaster” (1977:502).  Vitally though, for these [or any] ritual to be effective, they must be balanced between ‘thought and feeling’ at what Scheff calls an ‘esthetic distance’, where “one is both participant in, and observer of one’s own distress, so that one can go in and out freely” (1977:502).  If the person is under-distanced, that is (perhaps unconsciously) identifying with the scene to the degree that they are submerged in reliving distressful and unresolved moments from their own life, not only does catharsis not occur, internal tension can actually increase.  Conversely, ‘over-distancing’ suggests a total detachment from the scene, with more thought than feeling.  Hence, the degree of distancing is a crucial factor in the effectiveness of the ‘ritual’ mechanism. 

A potentially fruitful element of Scheff’s theory, given the focus of this thesis, is the proposal that in contemporary mass entertainment, certain techniques can be used to control distancing, categorised by Scheff as “hall distance, emotional contagion, stylisation, musical cueing, mixing positive and negative emotions…and discrepant awareness” (1977:503, see also 1979:134-148).  In brief, these techniques can be used to elicit, and also subdue, emotional response.  ‘Hall’ distance, for instance, plays on the apparent physical proximity to the emotional stimulus, often bringing it ‘closer’ to the audience, such as the use of larger screens for films, itself supported by the effective use of sound and music to build tension or indicate when emotion should be felt.  This, it is proposed, is tempered by the stylised techniques of drama that such as costume or caricature, characterised speech and the disruption and misrepresentation of time, that remind the audience of the falseness of the display.  Emotional contagion however relies less on the effects of the production, but on the presence of others to incite and amplify the affective response.  Essentially, the audience is made aware of some emotional effect, yet is also (usually) given enough information to ensure that the distress is not too overwhelming, hence, certain discrepancies in narrative, plot or production.

With some modifications to Scheff’s basic theory, such techniques provide a basis for assessing aspects of emotion in the ‘ritual’ of tourism, particularly aspects that provide for mimetic behaviour and ‘controlled de-control’ in Elias’s terminology.  Firstly, it is contended here that an experience need not be ‘cathartic’ to have a positive effect on an individual’s underlying emotional state.  Even without such a dramatic release, activities in leisure and tourism can perhaps be beneficially ‘re-creative’.  Secondly, Scheff argues that it is only negative emotions that are repressed, and positive emotion may only be an expressive outcome of discharge (1977:503).  It is argued here though, that both negative and positive emotion [such as stressful frustration, raucous laughter, overt affection] often require containment until an ‘appropriate moment’. 

Rojek (1993:165) approaches the provision of opportunities for such moments by drawing on Goffman’s (1967) idea of institutionalized ‘action places’, where individuals can ‘let off steam’ and engage in activities and behaviour that are not normally tolerated.  Casinos, strip clubs and sports arenas, as well as heritage centres and theme parks offer ways of escaping society’s usual constraints, Rojek posits, drawing parallels with Elias and Dunning’s ideas on mimetic activity.  However, an important point must be made here with regard to the social and personal implications of emotional expression: it is not only the nature of the stimulus that affects the emotional experience, but also the demeanor of the individual.  Scheff (1992) alludes to such an idea in giving primacy to shame as the most significant of emotions, its avoidance underlying much of social action.  Similarly, for Zeldin (1998), giving a false impression is a ‘modern nightmare’ and “reputation is the modern purgatory” (1998:171-2). 

A particularly salient account of the significance of such behaviour is that provided by Goffman (1967) in his conception of ‘character contests’ which occur at fateful moments of action, and the use of ‘role distancing’ in the management of potentially embarrasssing situations.  As Lemert and Branaman (1997:lxx-lxxi) summarise, character contests can have repercussions for the social standing of the individual, as character involves the ability to “maintain composure and self sameness in the face of challenge”, hence most people avoid gambling it (perhaps risking shame).  However, in Goffman’s words, “on the other hand, there is much to be gained by putting oneself on the line and making a good showing” (1967:237).  Role distancing though, involves the management of a potentially embarrassing situation whilst it is occurring, through performative action to immediate audiences in a manipulation of image and self-image.  In this mode, the individual attempts to manage the seen impressions conveyed through such activities as dramatically isolating oneself from the activity, or ‘meeting it more than half way’ in a mocking, ironic fashion (Goffman 1961, cited by Lemert and Branaman 1997).  The aim is to ensure that these impressions, or roles, are compatible with the “role appropriate personal qualities effectively imputed to him” in everyday life (1997:35).  The action of distancing then, is not denying the role conferred by the activity, it only denies the “virtual self that is implied in the role for all accepting performers” (1997:37).

What this section suggests then, is that social and psychological forces may influence emotional behaviour in profound ways.  Importantly though, although some degree of containment or repression might be evident, society also provides mechanisms for more ‘acceptable’ emotional expression, especially though recreation.  The sites and activities that provide for this allow for, and even encourage, controlled emotional discharge through mimetic action, which also provides the social situation to play with or manage ones character or role.  Such thinking provides the basis for the research that follows later.  Before this however, the next section explores the idea of emotion in social development in a less abstract way, introducing ways in which emotional attitudes and expression can be seen to fluctuate thoughout recent history, and how mechanisms for emotional release have developed in response.

1.2:  Themes and trends in emotional experience: consumption, commodification and the pursuit of pleasure.

The social and historical, according to Newton (1998) are woven together in the  development of emotionality.  Indeed, changes in social behaviour that can be connected to a concomitant development in emotional behaviour are evident throughout the last two centuries at least.  The experiencing of places through travel, for instance, exemplifies the connection between social practice, emotional discourse and emotionality.  Adler (1989) skillfully demonstrates these connections by tracing the simultaneous development of society and emotionality in the 18th and 19th centuries, in which travel was both an agent and outcome of social development.  It was during this period, Adler posits, that saw the focus of travel and (upper class) society change from a concern with rational ‘enlightened’ observation, to an appreciation of the aesthetic and emotional.  Campbell (1987) also illustrates the shifting of emotional experience around the ‘Romantic period’ (circa 1790-1830), from the excessive and often false expression of emotion associated with ‘the age of sentiment’, to the expectation of a more subdued and internalised mode feeling. Moreover, during this period aspects of travel itself became “simultaneously a more effusively passionate activity and a more private one” through the appreciation of the aesthetic (Adler 1989:22). 

Implicated in these trends are the productions of Romantic discourse, such as poetic and artistic media and gothic novels that inspired and mobilised interest in the emotional, the sensational and macabre.  Such a discourse provided an emotional frame of reference for the understanding and appreciation of previously threatening landscapes such as the hills of the Lake District, literally transforming them from something to be feared, or at least disregarded, to something of personal and social value (see Macnaghten and Urry 1998).  Fundamental to this appreciation was the emotional experience to be gained.  Not only could it infer status as a measure of ones ‘sensibility’, but it could also be consumed for the intrinsic pleasure to be gained from its affect (Campbell 1987).  Moreover, as Adler points out, such emotional experience of the aesthetic also afforded escape from the distressing realities encountered in everyday life (1989:23)

The apparent connection between social trends and emotional experience is not confined to travel of course.  Morgan (1994) for instance, highlights the role of ‘London Society’ – the aristocracy of the industrialising period of the 1900s - in delineating social codes of behaviour, including the need to further conceal feelings in order to retain appropriate appearance; a process that Morgan suggests filtered down through the classes (cited by Newton 1998:70-71).  What this suggests though, is not necessarily a move away from emotionality, but more an internalising and privatisation of feeling, akin to that which Wouters calls a process of ‘formalisation’, itself an aspect of the long term process of ‘informalisation’ (1992).  Drawing heavily on Elias’s ideas on the civilising process, informalisation, it is proposed, incorporates an “increasing demand to manage emotion in more flexible and differentiated ways”, with a “widening range of alternatives for behaviour and expression of emotional behaviour” (1992:241).

According to Wouters, the ongoing informalisation of emotion is punctuated by periods of re-formalisation, with “every informalisation…preceded by a period of formalisation” (1986:15).  Hence, the behaviour identified by Morgan might be seen as a kind of formalising of emotion.  In fact, Wouters suggests that formalisation reached its peak in Victorian Britain before society entered a ‘dominant period of informalisation’ throughout the next century.  The 20th century too, it is proposed, has been punctuated by a relative re-formalisation in the 1940s-1950s, and again in the 1980s.  As an example, the apparent suppression of emotional behaviour in the 1940s and 1950s preceded a period of heightened expression in the 1960s and 1970s, exposed by a desire to discover “hithertoo concealled emotions” or even “an authentic knowledge of our inner feelings” (Wouters 1986:4).

Implicated in these processes are the impacts of commerce and capitalism that, historically at least, have demanded the control of emotional behaviour as a prerequisite to effective and rational economic exchange at the micro and macro level.  Hochschild (1983) exemplifies this idea by emphasising the trend towards organised training of feeling through ‘corporate guile’ in which individuals are constantly encouraged to suppress true feelings, as insincerity becomes vital to fulfilling economically based transactions (1983:190-191).  Thus, feelings have themselves become a commodity to be traded through ‘emotional labour’.  Because of this, she contends, “we have begun to place unprecedented value on spontaneous, ‘natural’ feeling’, and a desire for the ‘authentic self’ (1983:190), a trend that Hochschild recognises as beginning in the Romantic Movement, as intimated above. 

Ahmed takes the idea of emotion as a commodity a step further in the suggestion of ‘emotionality as an affective economy’.  In this mode of thought, emotionality is characterised as having no ‘positive residence’, “circulat[ing] without inhabiting any particular object, body or sign”, but crucially, through this circulation some objects, bodies or signs may become “endowed with emotional meaning and value” (2001:4). Contemporary marketing has of course taken notice of the value of emotion, and examples are easy to find in recent promotions: Seat cars offer ‘auto-emotion’, ‘showing your feelings is now easy with Panasonic Ecam’, and the opening of a new ‘Xscape’ indoor snow slope offers ‘relief from reality’.  In contrast to the broad narratives of emotional containment and repression then, consumption of emotion as a commodity acknowledges a postmodern condition, in which culture is

 "dominated by depthlessness, fragmentation and reproduction.  It emphasises particularity and difference over uniformity and totality.  Life is seen as contingent and not determined by objective forces”

(Rojek 1993:133).

In this mode of thought, rather than being a definitive response to social pressures, highly explainable by universalistic theories, even leisure and tourism are reduced to a ‘mere consumption activity’ that expresses social consciousness (Rojek 1993:133).  Such a standpoint inevitably undermines any ‘modernist quest’ for authenticity and self-realisation, Rojek argues.  Instead, emotion can be pursued not as a response to some biologically or socially induced need, but because the object or experience can provide pleasure in themselves, in a more hedonistic way, which itself lies in the shift from sensation to emotion in experience (Campbell 1987, 1995).  Hedonism for Campbell allows autonomy, through self-illusion unrestricted by ‘reality’, involving fantasy and daydreaming.  Hence, the individual is in control of his or her impulsive tendencies, rather than control being environmental or institutional, and may be expressed in the desire for ‘new and exciting experiences’, incorporating danger, grief hardship and fear (Lupton 1998:141). 

This is not to say that society does not in some way instill needs within its subjects, only that this need and its alleviation is to some degree a product of consumer culture, in which pleasure and emotion have become a synonymous commodity.  For Campbell, (1987) this alleviation can be motivated by either desire or utility, although they are ‘very different concepts’.  A utilitarian requirement for satisfaction, or a ‘need’, is aimed at restoring a state of equilibrium and is attained from the ‘intrinsic attributes of things’.  These it is proposed, are often unconscious ‘push factors’, such as that of hunger or thirst.  Conversely, ‘desire’ is viewed as a ‘pull factor’; as an externally focussed response centred more on the quality of the experience, its pleasure emanating from a “favourable reaction to certain patterns of sensation” rather than being an intrinsic property of the object (Campbell 1987:61).  Such a view is not entirely adhered to here, the problem being that pleasure is reduced to something to be desired rather than needed.  What is propounded in this thesis is that even autonomous hedonism and its associated emotional pleasures can be a response to a socially induced need, albeit motivated by their circulation as commodities.

This argument aside, such commodification is as evident in contemporary recreation as any other form of consumption.  Not only do recreational experiences commonly promise pleasure and satisfaction,  they also subtly reflect concerns with status and identity, and directly or indirectly sell emotional benefits.  The growth of holiday ‘niches’ like green or ‘alternative’ tourism or ‘extreme’ sports play on the consumer’s guilt at harming the environment, their pride in the social positioning inferred through certain destinations or activities, or a perceived desire for something more real or meaningful.  Thus, whilst the commodification of emotion might force some to sell the benefits of their emotional labour to gain capital, this capital also buys the opportunity to create and consume ever more diverse ‘emotional’ products.

Tne final trend that demands acknowledging is that of the effect on emotional experience made available through media and technology.  Rojek (1997) raises the role of televisual culture in creating the situation where the value of images ‘dragged’ together by the individual from the media can subsume those found in reality, and what is actually experienced is often reinterpreted with reference to our store of media knowledge.  The effect on tourism for instance is that of a desensitisation to the spectacle, “why travel if external sights have been stripped of their aura” Rojek asks (1997:69).  Lupton (1998:6) also comments on the proliferation of emotionality in talk shows that encourage participants to reveal their most ‘private and distressing’ feelings for the viewer to vicariously consume (and presumably empathise with).  Parallels with the ‘Big Brother’ game show and its voyeuristic genre can be drawn here, where the viewer not only watches the producer-provoked dramas unfold, but can become a part of them by voting for contestants to be evicted from the set that confines them for several weeks.  Quite noticeably, it is the emotional moments that emanate from such stifling confinement that provide a significant part of the entertainment.

Perhaps most important though, are the opportunities presented by the internet.  Williams (2001) highlights the new forms of intimacy and sharing that it provides, from chat rooms to cyberporn, and virtual ‘communities’.  One danger is the potential disembodiment of minds and emotions that denies our basic humanity, reducing it to a ‘mere function of technology’.  Although the net allows the individual to be ‘touched’ or even aroused by its content, what is lost, Williams argues, is the depth of emotional experience conveyed in actual physical and face-to-face contact.  For such reasons,  “cyberspace rates a poor second to the pleasures and pains, the agonies and ecstasies of the real world” (2001:127).  But whilst computers offer a ‘second best’ option at present, steps are already under way to integrate emotionality into their processing abilities.  On a conceptual basis, commentators are discussing the ethics and potential for emotional computers, playing on Arthur C. Clarkes concept of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  As Picard (2001: on line) suggests, emotionality that at least seems to parallel human emotional states is in many ways desirable in computers, as well as critical, if they are to develop ‘flexible and intelligent’ decision making, although the danger is that affective computers may eventually have the emotions, but not the intelligence to use them properly.  Nonetheless, researchers in Japan are already working with simple ‘neural computing’ that mimics human brain function; such machines have successfully been trained to recognise emotions in the voices of their operators (Daily telegraph 22/4/01). 

Conceivably then, technology might go beyond the level of being an interface that mediates emotional contact between humans, to a position where some degree of emotional relationship with the device itself is possible.  In an increasingly ‘mediated age’, Williams and Bendelow (1998: xix) note, the social impact of such developments go far beyond that which is currently apparent, with potentially profound repercussions for emotional experience.

In summary, whilst individuals are in many ways compelled to compress their existences into socially acceptable modes of being, not large enough to accommodate the full extent of human needs, more and more ways of experiencing everyday life are emerging.  What the accounts summarised so far imply, is that social practices are in many ways enmeshed with the experience of emotion, either as mediated, determined or controlled by socio-cultural forces, commerce and media and technology.  What is argued in this investigation then, is that tourism and leisure can and does provide mechanisms for a significant emotional experience; one that can ‘move’ the tourist away from the everyday emotional landscape to a contrasting one, of either more or less intensity, or perhaps nearer to an emotional inner-self through affective connection with something personally significant.  Therefore the idea of tourism as a moving experience might also be seen as suggesting a movement of emotions themselves, either in their release from containment, or their circulation and consumption as commodities within leisure and tourism attractions.

Emotion clearly presents a challenging field of research, not least due to its diversity of expression and significance.  The issue at this stage then, is one of methodology.  To be able to investigate emotions effectively in the tourist setting will require some appreciation of not only the social manifestations of their expression, as expressed in this chapter, but also the ways in which they might emerge in, and are used by, the tourist and the provider of the attraction. Hence, the next chapter draws together some prominent thinking on emotions, and uses this as a basis for the selection of techniques for research to follow