A post-paradigmatic approach to analysing emotions in social life

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Rebecca E. OlsonUniversity of Queensland, Australia

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Alberto BellocchiQueensland University of Technology, Australia

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Ann DadichWestern Sydney University, Australia

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Scholars studying emotions in social life typically work mono-logically, within a paradigmatic camp, drawing on distinct theories of emotion. In isolation, each offers a singular conceptualisation of emotions in social life. Working multi-logically, in contrast, offers richer, comparative insight into the layered meanings of emotion relevant to a social context. Rather than treating them as incommensurate, we not only argue for the benefits of drawing on multiple paradigms, methods and theories of emotions in social life, we offer a worked example of a post-paradigmatic methodology for analysing emotions in social life that values multi-logicality and epistemic flexibility. Setting aside debates about what emotions are, we work from the premise that different conceptualisations of emotions do things: shape what we see and ignore, and discursively position people. We show how multiple theories and concordant methods can – and should – be applied to studying emotions in social life in the same study. In this empirical illustration of a methodological innovation, we map theories and methodologies of emotions in social life against four research paradigms and against four phases of a study into the emotional dimensions of interprofessional practice, depicting the realisations afforded through a post-paradigmatic methodology for analysing emotions in social life.

Abstract

Scholars studying emotions in social life typically work mono-logically, within a paradigmatic camp, drawing on distinct theories of emotion. In isolation, each offers a singular conceptualisation of emotions in social life. Working multi-logically, in contrast, offers richer, comparative insight into the layered meanings of emotion relevant to a social context. Rather than treating them as incommensurate, we not only argue for the benefits of drawing on multiple paradigms, methods and theories of emotions in social life, we offer a worked example of a post-paradigmatic methodology for analysing emotions in social life that values multi-logicality and epistemic flexibility. Setting aside debates about what emotions are, we work from the premise that different conceptualisations of emotions do things: shape what we see and ignore, and discursively position people. We show how multiple theories and concordant methods can – and should – be applied to studying emotions in social life in the same study. In this empirical illustration of a methodological innovation, we map theories and methodologies of emotions in social life against four research paradigms and against four phases of a study into the emotional dimensions of interprofessional practice, depicting the realisations afforded through a post-paradigmatic methodology for analysing emotions in social life.

Introduction

Scholars from several disciplines have come to argue that emotions in social life are complex social phenomena, warranting the adoption of multiple paradigmatic assumptions in the application of diverse analytic methods (Fineman, 2004; Bericat, 2016; Essary, 2017). For instance, Scheff (1997) and Denzin (2010) have critiqued typical sociological research that relies on a single method and single set of epistemological assumptions, highlighting the limitations associated with methodological fragmentation. In the learning sciences, Tobin and Ritchie (2012) promote a ‘multi-logical’ approach, studying emotional events at different levels using multiple methods and theoretical frameworks. Clément and Sanger (2018) join Bleiker and Hutchison (2018) in calling for a pluralist framework to studying emotions in world politics. Linguistic variation aside, these scholars are all advocating for what Pernecky (2016) calls ‘post-paradigmatic’ inquiry: research that values philosophical, theoretical and methodological diversity. Despite these repeated invitations for post-paradigmatic inquiry, fragmentation continues in the sociology of emotions (Olson et al, 2017); practical illustration of how to work post-paradigmatically in studying emotions in social life is limited.

Moving beyond an invitation, in this article we illustrate the benefits of recognising that differing conceptualisations of emotions in social life, supported by research grounded in different paradigmatic assumptions, all have purchase in and consequences for understanding the social realities of emotions in a given context. Employing different analytic methods, aligned with different conceptualisations of emotions, in this article we offer a worked example of a post-paradigmatic methodology for analysing emotions in social life that values multi-logicality and ‘epistemic fluency’ (Goodyear, 2011: 255). For this empirical illustration of a methodological innovation, we draw examples from our inquiry into interprofessional practice (IPP) – a revised model of healthcare which aims to improve patient safety and work culture (Lingard et al, 2012). We start by depicting how emotions in social life have been conceptualised and researched across diverging paradigmatic lines; we then map theories against four dominant paradigms, offering a heuristic to work across as we demonstrate the usefulness of taking a post-paradigmatic approach to researching emotions in social life.

Background

Interest in emotions in social life has burgeoned since the late 1970s, especially in sociology (Bericat, 2016). Emotions1 in social life are broadly understood by sociologists to be physiological, interactive, cultural and social phenomena (Williams and Bendelow 1998). Unlike the dominant individualistic theories that place emotions within an individual’s mind, emotions are also understood by sociologists to be relational and embodied (Denzin, 1990).

Approaches to studying emotions in social life, however, diverge considerably in their conceptual emphases and concordant methods (Turner and Stets, 2006). Some theorists prioritise physiological and structural elements (Kemper, 1990), others their cultural basis (Hochschild, 1983), and others still their discursive potential (Ahmed, 2010). Reflecting the intertwinement of theory and methodology (Pink and Sumartojo, 2017), researchers typically employ single research methods concordant with their theory or theories, and the associated epistemology and ontology. A recent review of the sociology of emotions suggests this practice is widespread: 77 of the 101 reviewed studies used only one method of data production (Olson et al, 2017).

Yet, this way of studying social phenomena may be stifling innovation. Pernecky (2016) argues that working within single paradigms within one study can narrow qualitative research to monological approaches. Choosing from one of the four research paradigms within Lincoln and colleagues’ (2013) oft-cited typology has come to signify the dominant way to design research, despite Lincoln et al’s early recognition of the benefits of crossing boundaries. The elevated treatment of research paradigms sees social researchers working within seemingly exclusive and discordant epistemological and methodological categories. Instead, Pernecky (2016: 194) argues for a ‘post-paradigmatic’ future where researchers work from multiple philosophical vantage points. Such a future draws on our human capacities for ‘epistemic fluency’ – an ability to ‘recognise and combine … different forms of knowledge and ways of knowing’ (Goodyear, 2011: 255).

Our article is written in this same spirit. Following Ahmed (2004) and Fox (2015), we put aside debates about what emotions are to emphasise the capacity of emotions to do things. We also set aside ontological discussions within sociology on emotions to emphasise the benefits of drawing on multiple conceptualisations, epistemologies, and methods in studying emotions in social life. Thus, in this article, we offer an illustrated post-paradigmatic methodology to analyse emotions in social life that appreciates, theoretically and empirically, multi-perspectival and multi-logical2 approaches to studying emotion.

Context of our illustrative data set

To demonstrate the benefits of post-paradigmatic analysis, we draw examples from a study of IPP in cancer care. The remainder of this section introduces readers to the context of our data set. Following this, we discuss differing conceptualisations of emotions in social life and their concordant methodological orientations, offering corresponding empirical illustration from our own data.

Our research examined a revised IPP healthcare model within one hospital-based cancer department. One of the aims of IPP is replacing the steep hierarchy among staff in healthcare, which positions physicians as the leaders, with a collaborative decision-making framework whereby team members work interdependently to accomplish healthcare goals (Lingard et al, 2012). Given the importance of emotion to theorising hierarchical healthcare models (James and Gabe, 1996; Olson and Dadich, 2019), we focused on the social and emotional aspects of IPP. Our study design was inspired by a new methodology called video-reflexive ethnography (VRE) which extends traditional ways of collecting and analysing data within ethnographies (for example, observation, interviews), with the additional use of video-recorders (Iedema et al, 2013). Recordings are then analysed, interpreted and critiqued with participants (or co-researchers) to co-construct knowledge.

Drawing on VRE, we employed several forms of data collection, prompting the production of naturally occurring, responsive and reflexive data. The first author: 1) shadowed five staff members – a nurse, speech pathologist, senior medical consultant, registrar and administrative supervisor – over the course of one shift (34 hours of observation), taking ethnographic fieldnotes of staff interactions; 2) explored the emotional experiences of cancer care through interviews with 11 staff, representing medicine, nursing, allied health and administration, and four patients, three of whom were accompanied by their carers; 3) observed (n=3) and video-recorded (n=9) interprofessional case conference meetings led by three different senior consultants; and 4) facilitated four reflexive sessions with staff members. Interprofessional case conferences, between 30- and 90-minutes duration, provided a rare opportunity for clinicians from nursing, medicine and allied health professions to develop care plans for patients during face-to-face interactions. Videoing these IPP meetings allowed us to return to these socio-emotional interactions in our analysis repeatedly. Reflexive sessions capitalised on participants’ expertise in their own IPP (Iedema and Carroll, 2010). During the first session, clinicians came together to view, analyse and critique video-clips of themselves and their colleagues that the lead author had extracted from longer videos of the IPP meetings. In the three subsequent reflexive sessions, four clinicians worked with the lead researcher to extend their previous reflections especially related to the emotional dimensions of IPP.

Aligned with the participatory agenda that underpins many VRE studies, we blurred the distinction between researcher and participant, with two participants also acting as clinician associate investigators who fostered access to the research site (Carroll and Mesman, 2018). Overall, the combined use of self-reported data via participant interviews, researcher field notes, video-recordings of observed practices and the reflexive sessions with the co-researchers, helped to diversify what was captured, how it was captured, when it was captured, and who (and what) contributed to the co-construction of knowledge.

In the forthcoming sections, we draw on our IPP data set to illustrate a post-paradigmatic approach to analysing emotions in social life. Our examples demonstrate a fuller appreciation of how diverging methods of analysis and conceptualisations of emotions in social life can intersect. Our contribution moves beyond defining emotions as multifaceted (Fineman, 2004; Turner, 2007), towards embracing theories and epistemologies to advance research and theory from multiple analytic vantage points. To make this contribution, we begin in the next section by summarising different conceptualisations of emotions in social life that inform our understandings of emotions. We also map theories against the four dominant research paradigms – namely, (post-)positivist, social constructionist, critical and participatory – to capture the post-paradigmatic nature of engaging with multiple theories. Additionally, we use examples from our study into the emotional dimensions of IPP to illustrate how different methods can align with each paradigm, and how drawing on multiple methods supports post-paradigmatic inquiry.

Multiple theoretical vantage points on emotions in social life

Our aim here is not to work towards any absolute definition of emotions, but to explore what it is possible to do as researchers in exercising theoretical and epistemic flexibility (Goodyear, 2011; Dixon, 2012; Fox, 2015). As we progress, we map theories and corresponding methods into neighbouring camps.3 These camps correspond with four main social research paradigms (see Table 1), noting various ‘turns’ along the way: linguistic, affective and/or post-qualitative.

Table 1:

Theories of emotions in social life mapped against dominant research paradigms

Physiological Interactionist Critical Affective
Theorisation of Emotion Emotions are physiological, somewhat universal and can be captured to some extent through research (Ekman and Friesen, 2003) Emotions are socially co-constructed and relative to a locality/group; emotions research is somewhat transferrable (Hochschild, 1983; Collins, 2004) Emotions are shaped by and shape social, cultural, political, economic and gendered value positions; how emotions are conceptualised may reinforce dialectical positions (Fineman, 2004; Ahmed, 2010) Affect and emotions are (somewhat) distinct; affect occupies a pre-personal and material form, while emotions are culturally relative; affect is an important motivator to act (Massumi, 2002; Fox, 2015)
Illustrative Analytic Focus Measuring biomarkers Thematic analysis of interview transcript Discourse analysis of text Embodied intensities, becoming
Research Paradigm Post-Positivist Social Constructionist Emancipatory Participatory
Ontology Reality is singular, existing independent of human understanding Realities are made through social interactions and institutions, and specific to a setting Reality/ies is/are influenced by powerful value systems, such as neoliberalism, colonialism and patriarchies Realities are experienced subjectively and objectively, involving minds and bodies interacting with a broader social/world order
Epistemology Observable data probably represent the truth/reality Findings are co-constructed by researchers and participants Findings are always informed and filtered by (the researcher’s) values Findings are co-constructed by researchers and locally positioned participants; experiential and practical knowledge are highly valued
Inquirer Posture A neutral and an unbiased researcher An immersed researcher and/or participant, who advances a representation informed by many voices An interested researcher, who seeks to transform understandings A facilitating researcher, who fosters action informed by self-reflection

Source: Adapted from Lincoln et al, 2013: 204–6

Although conceptually helpful, it is important to preface the shortcomings of such cartographic exercises.

First, the theories and corresponding methods summarised here are necessarily representational rather than exhaustive.

Second, we acknowledge the limitations of all schemata, especially paradigmatic scaffolds; they can constrain understanding, replacing ‘flows and continua’ with ‘rigid frameworks’ (Pernecky, 2016: 3). Rather than doing away with paradigms, we see them as offering a useful heuristic, helping researchers to identify and then work across theoretical and empirical paradigmatic camps.

Third, this mapping exercise is a categorical approximation of a messy theoretical and methodological reality. Conceptualisations can prioritise particular facets of emotions in social life (for example, as interactionist phenomena) and employ particular research methods (for example, interviews), underpinned by a single paradigm (for example, social constructionist). However, some theories might be applicable to multiple paradigms (Collins, 2004; Barbalet, 2011) and many extend a primary conceptualisation, based in one camp, with supplementary theorisations from neighbouring camps (Heaney, 2011). There are examples where methods aligned with divergent paradigms are judiciously combined – a trend we encourage (Bellocchi, 2015). Furthermore, researchers who work across diverging paradigms can use the same method in different ways – consider variations of an interview. Thus, our theoretical and methodological chart serves only as a heuristic device, which reflects the overarching interconnection between theory, method and paradigm in research on emotions in social life.

Physiological theories

Physiological theories of emotions prioritise the physical, embodied manifestations of individual and collective emotional experiences. These manifestations can take many forms, including changes in pulse, digestion, temperature, vocal pitch and facial expression. An appreciation of the physiological aspects of emotions in social life can be traced back to Darwin’s (1872) studies of emotional expressions and responses. Darwin theorised that some emotions are basic and universal, prompting changes in the nervous system and facial contractions that others recognise as emotional expressions and respond to. Ekman and Friesen (2003) famously operationalised Darwin’s thesis, developing a facial action coding system (FACS) to detect basic emotions through associated facial movements. More recently, FACS was used as the basis of several software programs to detect emotional expressions on video-recorded faces (iMotions, 2018). However, the thesis that each basic emotion is associated with a distinct neural pathway and a universally recognisable facial expression has been criticised in neuroscience (Leys, 2017). Feldman-Barrett (2017) demonstrated that neural pathways associated with emotions vary from person to person, and are intertwined with other emotions, thoughts and senses. Furthermore, she argued that emotions are not inbuilt, but socially constructed, highlighting cross-cultural variance in definitions and the recognition of emotional expressions.

Predominantly physiological4 ways to study emotions in social life, like that of Ekman and Friesen (2003), empirically examine emotions as internal and potentially universal phenomena. This suggests alignment with the (post-)positivist paradigm, which is most evident in the methods used, and their underlying assumptions (for example, seeking experimental control, statistical comparison, making universalist claims). Clay-Warner and Robinson’s (2015) use of infrared thermography to identify emotions through heat patterns on people’s faces as they interact offers another example. Although focused on studying social actors in interactions, the experimental setting and prioritisation of replicable measures aligns their approach with the (post-)positivist paradigm.

Scholars working within the (post-)positivist tradition have been critiqued for marginalising participant voices and different knowledges, imposing their own codified definitions of phenomena on participant experiences a priori (Hardy and Clegg, 1997). However, in studying emotions in social life, these physiological measures might draw scholars’ attention to fleeting physical changes, for example in facial expressions, voice pitch and/or skin temperature, which would be difficult for even highly trained observers to appreciate. Physiological measures can assist with data reduction strategies by drawing scholars’ attention to temporally short ‘salient events’ worthy of scrutiny amidst hours of video-data (Tobin and Ritchie, 2012: 118).

Empirical illustration of physiological approaches

In our post-paradigmatic research into the emotional dimensions of IPP, we observed and videoed clinicians during IPP case conference meetings over several weeks using video cameras positioned outward from four points at the centre of the room. Using the software package eMotient (iMotions, 2018), we analysed the videos of clinician faces to identify expressions associated with seven emotions: joy, anger, surprise, fear, contempt, sadness and disgust. In studying emotions in social interactions, this software helped to identify when emotions were and were not shared among clinicians during meetings. After identifying a moment of shared emotion, we then created corresponding video-clips, varying in length from seconds to minutes, which captured the complete emotional event. Some of our resulting video-clips begin and end with discussion and shared emotions about one or more patients; others splice together relevant themes appearing at different points throughout the meeting.

We illustrate our analysis with an example from IPP case conference ‘A’. The eMotient analysis of facial expressions during this conference helped to identify a moment of shared joy. Beginning 24 minutes into the video-recording, five out of six clinicians shared sustained laughter. This followed the senior consultant’s sarcastic yet friendly quip directed at a physiotherapist who sought clarification on a patient experiencing mobility challenges. As the shared joy related to the care of this patient, the interactional unit was deemed to start and end with discussion related to the patient. A 4.45-minute Brady bunch5 video-clip of the interaction was then created for further analysis using techniques informed by interactionist and critical theories discussed in the next section.

In this section, we have considered one set of paradigmatic assumptions, enacted through the collection and analysis of video data to examine facial expressions of emotion. Our study of IPP moved beyond this single-method approach by adopting other methods aligned with different paradigmatic assumptions, as per the following three sections.

Interactionist theories

Sociologists of emotions within the interactionist tradition – which include (but is not limited to) dramaturgical, symbolic interactionist and interaction ritual theories (Turner and Stets, 2006) – place less emphasis on the physicality of emotional expression, instead prioritising cultural and organisational intersections. Hochschild (1983) asserts that individuals modify their feelings to comply with organisationally – and culturally – defined rules regarding appropriate emotional displays. This top-down understanding suggests sociocultural forces shape emotions in interpersonal exchanges. Similarly, Collins’ (2004) interaction ritual theory (IRT) implicates emotionally charged rituals in his bottom-up theorisation of how social organisations and solidarity are maintained. He argues that positive emotional energy is necessary for successful interaction and to sustain many social institutions. Science education researchers have operationalised Collins’ theory to study the role of emotions in science classrooms, micro-sociologically (Bellocchi and Ritchie, 2015) and ethnomethodologically (Davis and Bellocchi, 2019).

Interactionist conceptualisations of emotions in social life can be situated within a social constructionist paradigm (see Table 1). Researchers aligned with this paradigm tend not to conceptualise emotions in social life as individual and universal, but rather, as co-constructed within social contexts. As such, emotional realities are perceived to be plural, and understanding them requires an appreciation of multiple feelings and voices from a range of positions. As per Collins’ (2015) methodological recommendations, researchers who draw on IRT should rely on detailed observational and videoing techniques as well as interviews. Science education researchers have heeded this call, developing multimethod inquiry by combining video-observation with emotion diaries and collaborative interviews, among other methods (Bellocchi, 2017).

Sociologists of emotions tend to rely on semi-structured interviews, surveys and thematic analysis within interpretivist traditions, whereby they collect, manage and analyse ‘data’ from others (Johnson, 2010). This approach can be prone to recall issues: it might overlook fleeting physiological, backgrounded expressions of emotion; and, when participants are relegated to the role of ‘subject’, it can devalue other knowledges (Olson et al, 2015, Silverman, 2017).

Yet studying emotions in social life can be aided by interactionist theories, helping to situate emotions in cultures and institutions, not just individuals. Techniques central to research within this paradigm, such as thematic analysis, can direct attention to patterns in how emotions are conceptualised, reflecting a snapshot in time and space of emotions in social life.

Empirical illustration of interactionist approach

In our study, following Bellocchi (2015) and Davis and Bellocchi (2019), we used video and interview data and drew on interactionist theories of emotions in social life, such as IRT, to study the emotional dimensions of IPP. We transcribed the aforesaid video-clips for further scrutiny following conventions from conversation analysis (Garfinkel, 1967), which included notation of: speech; pause duration; interruptions (denoted by ‘-’); concurrent talk (denoted by ‘#’); and non-verbal interactions, such as gestures and engagement with material artefacts, both denoted by double parentheses (Tobin and Ritchie, 2012; Davis and Bellocchi, 2019). An analysis of interaction during key moments of videoed data offered moment-to-moment insight into how communication, including facial expressions, moments of entrainment6 and shared emotional energy, created social bonding and the socioemotional reality of each conference.

Continuing with the example introduced in the previous section, excerpts from case conference ‘A’ demonstrate some of the benefits of conversational analysis, supported by interactionist theorising. First, findings show that emotions played a communicative role. As per Table 2, the registrar’s furrowed brow (line 2) signified confusion at the relevance of the physiotherapist’s question, prompting the physiotherapist to provide an explanation (line 3).

Table 2:

Conversation analysis

Line Time Speaker Transcript
1 24:17 Physiotherapist Do you know if his van is manual or automatic?
2 Registrar ((looks at physiotherapist, makes a quick inquisitive furrow of brow))
3 Physiotherapist ‘Cus I’m af– if its manual I’m a little bit concerned
4 Senior consultant it’s his right leg that’s oh no it’s his #left leg# ((points at physiotherapist briefly))
5 Physiotherapist #left leg# it’s his clutch ((nodding))
6 Junior occupational therapist ((Rests head on hands under her chin, looks from senior consultant to physiotherapist))
7 24:28 Senior consultant I see where you are going with ((slight wink at physiotherapist))
8 Physiotherapist yeah
9 Social worker yeah, I don’t know ((shakes head))
10 Senior consultant Don’t you ask that? It’s a pretty standard – ((smiles slightly))
11 Nurse ((smiles widely, eyes squint from smile))
12 24:32 Physiotherapist ((smiles)) I know, I forgot to ask yesterday ((smiles)). Which ((incomplete))
13 Junior occupational therapist ((smiles, looking at physiotherapist))
14 Senior consultant I always ask that ((smiles slightly, looks down at notes))
15 Social worker #sorry# ((smiles and makes smile into a frown and shakes her head. Expression indicates feigned remorse))
16 24:37 Group ((laughter, 8 seconds. Registrar looks at physiotherapist and senior consultant and laughs, then continues laughing while looking at notes. Junior occupational therapist smiles, but does not laugh and returns attention to the laptop screen))

Second, our analysis unveiled how humour was used to sustain shared attention, which is evident in the clinicians’ gazes and non-verbal communication (lines 2, 6, 9, and 11–15), and to bolster social bonding – one possible outcome of shared emotional experiences (Collins, 2004). Third, findings indicate how humour was used to position clinicians as insiders, despite their different professions and years of experience. The physiotherapist’s question led to the senior consultant’s ironic joke (line 10), which was sustained by the physiotherapist (line 12) and social worker (line 15). The capacity of the joke to connect the collective – as demonstrated by the eight seconds of shared laughter – was shaped by clinician familiarity with norms and, in this case, a recognition that a norm was violated (Watson, 2015); laughter came from recognising the absurdity of something that was opposite to what was known.7 Shared humour emphasised the clinicians’ common insider status, momentarily transcending long-standing interprofessional hierarchies and solidifying social bonds. The capacity of humour to momentarily (re)position clinicians as insiders with a shared status spurred our desire to critically examine the capacity of emotions and differing conceptualisations of emotions to do things. This focus on what emotions do, and what they are, prompted us to draw on historical and critical perspectives of emotions.

Historical and critical theories

Historical research on emotions in social life draws attention to the relativity of what emotions are thought to be. For example, Konstan (2015) indicated there is no direct translation of the word emotion in ancient Greek, but similar phenomena, known as ‘pathos,’ were thought to be physiological and essential to reasoning, persuasion, interpersonal interactions, connections and social hierarchies. By the time of the medieval Christian theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, certain emotions aroused suspicion, with unholy passions reviled as ‘diseases of the soul’ (Dixon, 2012: 339). Apprehension of emotions persisted, with Descartes famously casting emotions as threats to reasoning in the 1600s, when he outlined his rationalist view of mind and body, thinking and emotions, as opposites (van Kleef, 2016). Although this interpretation of Descartes’ work has been discredited (Brown, 2006), the continuing influence of mind-body dualism is evident in the way powerful contemporary professions (for example, law, medicine) treat emotions as threats to objectivity (Olson and Dadich, 2019; Wettergren, 2019). Our brief example of the nurse in Table 2, which we illustrate in detail later, who reflected a dualist perspective on emotion and objectivity, encouraged us to consider how emotions are implicated in power relations during interactions.

Critical scholars of emotions have demonstrated the discursive power of Cartesian along with newer conceptualisations of emotions. Numerous scholars, drawing on Marxist, post-structuralist, feminist and post-colonial theorisations, highlight the persistent influence of mind-body dualism in the subjugation of women, racial minorities and non-positivist ways of knowing, which are deemed to be tainted by their proximity to emotions (Chapman, 2006; McNaughton, 2013; Midena 2015). Happiness has also been the subject of critical research, with Ahmed (2010) and Davies (2015) positioning the contemporary happiness imperative as an individualised force of social control. Emotions provide an embodied call to act. Yet cultural expectations – to be happy, not upset – attenuate or inhibit possible actions, undermining the potential for emotionally fuelled acts of resistance (Moisander et al, 2016).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, critical theories of emotion in social life can be positioned within an emancipatory paradigm (see Table 1), where social reality is deemed historically relative.8 In their methods, critical scholars of emotions in social life tend to ask, ‘Who benefits?’ and use researcher expertise to find answers. In doing so, they reveal assumed value systems that underpin the use and knowledge of emotions in social life. As influential value systems are often thought to be hidden beyond conscious awareness within this paradigm, autoethnography and naturalistic inquiries are preferred (Farrar, 2013, Moisander et al, 2016). Following the linguistic turn, which emphasises ‘the powers of language to construct [social] reality, not just represent it’ (Fairhurst and Uhl-Bien, 2012: 1045), textual data are analysed discursively (van Dijk, 2008). Critical scholars of emotions in social life use discursive techniques to examine how emotions and certain conceptualisations of emotions are used to do things, like explain unequal positions (Ecclestone, 2011) or circumvent resistance (Montgomery, 2008). However, following the affective turn, discursive techniques have been critiqued for their reliance on language and researcher readings of this language to represent reality, and their tendency to background (human and non-human) bodies, feelings, spaces and other unspoken, extra-textual ways of being and knowing (Lather, 2013; Pink, 2015). Despite these limitations, critical methods are uniquely positioned to unveil the power dynamics concealed within discursively charged emotional exchanges.

Empirical illustration of historical and critical perspectives

In our study, we drew on critical theories and methods to analyse naturalistic and responsive textual data: fieldnotes from shadowing five staff members over the course of one shift; and transcripts of interviews with 11 staff members, and seven patients and carers. Drawing on a critical appreciation of emotions as technologies of power, with varied conceptualisations linked to ideologically infused value systems (Moisander et al, 2016), and the methodological conventions of critical discourse analysis (van Dijk 2008; Fairhurst and Uhl-Bien, 2012), we analysed these data discursively, noting the varied emotional discourses represented (McNaughton, 2013).

Findings from our discursive analysis of interviews suggest that clinicians subscribed to diverging emotional discourses. Some described emotions as a potential threat to IPP that needed to be managed. Endorsing a mind-body dualist view of emotions, these interviewees described them as hazardous to rational thinking:

‘If you can take the emotion out of it, then you’re much more logical and clear thinking. When you react emotionally, I always find the brain switches off. If I react emotionally, I just get stubborn and other people do the same thing as well.’ (Nurse)

Other clinicians recognised emotion, particularly humour, as important to social order and IPP (Watson, 2015). It enabled them to connect with colleagues and/or manage the emotional sequelae associated with their role:

Sometimes humour is just a nice thing to relax people and put things back in their place. I think it’s very important, and possibly because of the [cancer care] context in which we work I think it’s a really useful tool. (Allied healthcare professional)

Our discursive analysis revealed interesting disparities in how emotions were described in interviews, and experienced and used during interprofessional case conferences. The nurse, for example, shown to be smiling and laughing in Table 2, described emotions as a threat to rational thinking in the interview. Yet during conference ‘A’, her emotions were a resource shared with other health professionals, helping to co-construct a more egalitarian social reality within the meeting. In contrast, the allied healthcare professional illustrates what emotions do socially by stating that they serve to bring about social order. In these two accounts we see reflected two different discourses of power: one pejorative, whereby emotion is second to rationality; and the other positive, promoting shared emotions as integral to keeping the group united in their activity. To enhance our understanding of the emotional and practical effects of these contradicting discourses on emotions, we drew on analytic approaches that prioritise affect.

Affective theories

Following the affective turn, some scholars distinguish between emotion and affect. Emerging from Spinoza and popularised by Deluezian philosophy (Deleuze, 1988), affect theory emphasises ‘the capacity of the body to both be affected and to affect others’ (Cromby and Willis, 2016: 477). Some affect theorists, like Massumi (2002), distinguish autonomic, precognitive, pre-personal and always-emerging intensities (affect) from internal experiences that are cognitively recognised and labelled as emotions (Leys, 2017). Others position emotions as just one form of affect, among a range of sensations that link bodies to spaces, environments and other bodies (Ahmed, 2004; Fox, 2015). Although conceptualisations vary, the affective turn has informed critiques of psychological and sociological understandings of emotions, as static, individualistic and anthropocentric (Fox, 2015), with affect theorists emphasising subjectivities as intertwined, unfolding, embodied and always becoming (Blackman et al, 2008). The emphasis on the capacity to affect and be affected acknowledges the centrality of shared affect to collective action (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; Fox, 2015).

Affect theories have been critiqued for exaggerating the distinction between emotions (as cultural) and affect (as material), subverting agentic- and identity-based politics and movements, and, like physiological theories, overemphasising the sensory and organic. Yet, such critiques have not hampered their growing popularity (Fox, 2015; Cromby and Willis, 2016; Leys, 2017; Olson et al, 2017).

The post-qualitative turn within (away from) qualitative social research often draws on affect theory to seek different ways of researching, moving from rigid methodologies towards techniques that prioritise knowledge through bodies, intensities and becoming (Fullagar, 2017; Wyer et al, 2017). Health sociologists have furthered affect theory, harnessing the potential for shared affect to prompt personal reflection, collaborative reflexion and action (Iedema, 2011). Using the VRE methodology described at the start of this article, researchers and/or participants (or co-researchers) video-record organisational practices and view edited video-clips, often with other participants (Wyer et al, 2017). The ‘affective effect … [on research participants] of watching video footage of their own practice’ (Iedema and Carroll, 2015: 69) can prompt participant-led reflection, along with local practice enhancements, such as safer infection control practices and more equitable policies. It can also reveal instances of positive deviance (Dadich et al, 2018).

Although VRE draws on affect theory and the post-qualitative turn (Wyer et al, 2017), it can also be aligned with the participatory paradigm (Carroll and Mesman, 2018). Within this paradigm, social reality is not singular, but plural and experienced subjectively (see Table 1). Embodied beings interact with changing social and material worlds (Lincoln et al, 2013). Participatory researchers who use VRE tend to view knowledge and truth as informed by affect and locally enacted. As such, and in contrast to critical scholars, they prioritise participant discourses and experiences to understand practice (Iedema and Carroll, 2010).

Participatory and, to some extent post-qualitative research practices, can democratise scholarship and optimise local impact (Lincoln et al, 2013). However, when operationalised, it can be difficult to ensure parity among different (and at times, competing) knowledges (Dadich, 2015; Dadich and Wyer, 2018). When researchers are positioned as facilitators who encourage participants to make discoveries, conventional forms of knowledge – like empirical evidence – might be underused. Furthermore, participatory researchers tend to be less interested in studying affect or emotions per se, and more interested in how they ‘move’ participants (Collier, 2016: 8), prompting reflection, reflexion and participant-driven change (Dadich et al, 2018). Despite these limitations, less rigid and more cooperative research methods guided by affect theories value participant knowledges, including bodies (human and non-human), treating knowledge as relational (rather than discrete), and conceptualising subjectivity as fluid (rather than static).

Empirical illustration of participatory research informed by affect theory

Capitalising on the potential of participatory, post-qualitative approaches, like VRE, to incite affect-driven reflection and local change (Iedema et al, 2013), we facilitated four reflexive sessions with clinicians in our study. During the first, two senior medical consultants, three nurses and three allied healthcare professionals reflected on video-clips of interprofessional case conferences, during which the clinicians displayed emotion. Clinicians were invited to consider the practices and manifestations of emotion they observed and did not observe, the factors and dynamics that contributed to these observations, and the role of emotion in IPP. In the three subsequent reflexive sessions, one senior medical consultant, one nurse and two allied health professionals worked with the lead researcher, through recorded discussions and journaling, to extend their previous reflections, especially those related to the emotional dimensions of their own IPP.

The reflexive sessions prompted individual practice changes in how clinicians led interprofessional conferences, appreciated the role of side-conversations during these conferences and valued emotions. For example, the nurse depicted in Table 2 acknowledged that her adherence to a mind-body dualist emotional discourse was discordant with what she witnessed in the footage. Reflecting on the role of laughter in conference ‘A’, she said:

‘It diffuses things … it helps to break the tension, but it is also a bit unifying when you share a joke … It kind of brings all the people sharing the joke together because in … [cancer care] you all have the same experience in relation to it. So, a bit of a bonding thing in some ways. But also, it diffuses a situation which is by nature fairly grave.’ (Nurse)

Rather than continuing to argue that emotions are harmful to IPP, our reflexive session prompted her to consider the power of emotions, through laughter, to flatten the hierarchy and bond clinicians within IPP meetings.

In summary, our examples drew on theorisations aligned with four traditions within the study of emotions in social life (see Table 3). From the physiological tradition, we drew on methods that emphasise the autonomic and communicative function of facial expressions (Ekman and Friesen, 2003). From the interactionist tradition, we used theories on the social bonding potential of shared emotional energy, especially laughter (Collins, 2004; Watson, 2015). From the critical tradition, we drew on theories and methods that implicate emotional discourses (for example, mind-body dualism) in reinforcing ideological value systems (McNaughton, 2013; Moisander et al, 2016). And, from the affective turn, we drew on methods that emphasise the power of affect to move researchers and participants (Fox, 2015; Collier, 2016).

Table 3:

Post-paradigmatic analysis of emotions in social life

Theorisation of Emotion Paradigm Data Medium Technique Tools
1 Physiological Post-positivist Video → event Researcher identification of shared displays of emotion in video data FACS software (e.g., iMotions)
2 Interactionist Social constructionist Video → textual Conversation analysis of video data by the researcher Video-editing software (e.g., Adobe Premiere Pro); Ethnomethodology
3 Critical Emancipatory Audio → textual Critical discourse analyses of interview data and field notes by the researcher Software for organising an analysis of textual data (e.g., NVivo)
4 Affective Participatory Reflexive → textual Participant reflexion on video and interview data Video-editing software (e.g., Adobe Premiere Pro)

Taking a post-paradigmatic approach to analysing the emotional dimensions of IPP in one hospital department offered us a fuller appreciation of the diverse ways emotions can be conceived and researched. Our presentation of this illustrative research article serves to exposit how a post-paradigmatic inquiry of emotions in social life that draws on diverging theories informing the sociology of emotions can be conducted. However, each approach is necessarily presented separately. This is not to say that these approaches were, or should be, separate during the analytic process. Instead, taking a post-paradigmatic approach both clarified the layered socioemotional reality of IPP, with several conceptualisations of emotions in social life holding relevance, and highlighted contradictions – evident even from the brief excerpts offered here – worthy of reflexive scrutiny and affective consideration.

Conclusion

Mapping theories to understand emotions in social life, and their associated methodologies, against four paradigmatic camps demonstrates a shared sociological understanding of emotions (and affect) as embodied, interactive and relational (Williams and Bendelow 1998). This mapping exercise also illustrates the value in appreciating emotions in multi-logical ways, both theoretically and empirically (Fineman 2004; Essary 2017). Emotions do not need to be understood from a singular set of ontological and epistemological assumptions. Positioning conceptualisations of emotions in social life into neighbouring camps reveals the manifold understandings that can be derived from physiological, interpersonal, ideological and affective theorisations, embracing them as plural phenomena. Furthermore, our cartographic exercise demonstrates the scarcity of post-paradigmatic approaches to appreciate, more fully, dialectically and multi-logically, understandings of emotions in social life from experiential and relational perspectives.

The empirical illustration presented in this article reveals the blinkers that often limit research when methods operate within one paradigm and curtail an expansive vista of emotions in social life. Each camp commonly operates in relative isolation, emphasising one aspect of emotion in social life. Within these camps, as illustrated elsewhere (Olson et al, 2017), is a preference for a limited range of methods, underpinned by a single paradigm that subdues other forms of knowledge. This challenge is not unique to sociology. Clément and Sangar (2018), for instance, call for pluralist approaches to studying emotions in international relations. Yet, few chapters in their edited collection embrace more than one method or paradigm. Our work – while centred within the field of sociology – contributes an example of precisely the kind of inquiry proposed by Clément and Sangar.

To study emotions in social life from multiple vantage points, we have argued for a post-paradigmatic approach. However, several clarifications are needed here before we can advance our argument.

First, this is not another call for mixed research methods, which typically combine different data and different analytical processes. With few exceptions (Bazeley, 2018), ‘mixed’ research tends to overlook epistemology or adopt a singular philosophy of knowledge, preferring instead to prioritise method; theory is only beginning to find a place within mixed-methods research (Creswell, 2015). In contrast, we prioritise epistemological and theoretical differences to inform our analytic methods. This might entail, as was the case in the illustrative study provided in this article, combining facial coding analysis, which is best understood through a post-positivist paradigm, with thematic and discursive analysis of interviews and transcribed observations, underpinned by constructionist and emancipatory paradigms.

Second, ours is not an argument to disassemble research paradigms. The prefix ‘post’ in post-paradigmatic denotes ‘after’ – following our recognition of paradigms as constraints; it does not denote a lack of value. To work ‘post’-paradigmatically, then, does not mean discarding paradigms, but a changed relationship with them. We see paradigms as useful heuristics for understanding different conceptualisations of emotions in social life, and to encourage scholarship within and across theoretical and paradigmatic lines that simultaneously employs analytic methods from disparate paradigmatic perspectives in the same study (Goodyear, 2011; Pernecky, 2016).

However, a third qualification warrants recognition. This is not to say that a post-paradigmatic approach offers a full or complete appreciation of emotions – we do not assert that this is feasible. Instead, it offers appreciation of the experientially layered and discursively loaded meanings of emotions that are accessible, with appropriate approaches, in a given context, and the different ways emotions permeate life. There is not one, but differing conceptualisations of emotions in social life. Working post-paradigmatically can draw attention to what emotions and their various conceptualisations do, in their different forms. All theoretically imbued definitions should be considered important for understanding socioemotional reality.

Charting this cartographic exercise against our own research into the emotional dimensions of IPP illustrates the benefits of a post-paradigmatic approach. Piecing elements together and assessing the divergences in forms of data, reveals various meanings during analysis and offers a richer understanding of the knowledges at play. It also offers fodder for participant reflection and participant-led change – illustrated by the nurse’s revised appreciation of the role of emotions in IPP. This was made possible by using many methods – aligned with differing paradigms – capable of accessing emotions multi-logically.

Overall, this article presents a useful construct to inform research designs capable of empirically appreciating the many conceptualisations of emotions relevant to a research site. As Pink (2015: 241) explained, ‘researching everyday life in its ongoingness and unstoppable flow presents a methodological conundrum in that we need to be both inside and seek to step out of everyday life in order to understand it’. This is particularly the case when studying emotions. The layered meanings, experiences, and uses of emotions in social life demand techniques that can accommodate their varied conceptualisations as physiological, social and ideological, as well as their capacity to provoke reflection, reflexion and change. Rather than continue stale debates about what emotions are (Fox, 2015) and whether the knowledge that is empirically produced is an objective truth or a product of an intersubjective encounter, multiple conceptualisations of emotions in social life, and empirical approaches to studying it, are necessary. Rather than responding to the many turns in social research – the linguistic, the affective and the post-qualitative, among others (Lather, 2013) – this article demonstrates the benefits of metaphorically (and metaphysically) stepping back. To this end, we provided a worked example of how methodologies and methods from neighbouring conceptual and paradigmatic camps can coalesce. We do not imply that every available methodology, method and paradigm is always relevant. Instead, we demonstrate the dialectic possibilities of, first, acknowledging the hegemonic role that paradigms presently play (Pernecky, 2016) within research on emotions in social life; and second, being open to ‘epistemic fluency’ to expand our conceptual vistas (Goodyear, 2011: 255). The post-paradigmatic analysis outlined here clarifies how researchers can work in, and above, paradigms to accommodate the layered multi-logicality of emotions in social life.

Acknowledgements

This article was supported a University of Queensland Early Career Researcher Grant (UQECR1609061) and an Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities Faculty Fellowship. It was also supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Grant (DE160101053). We wish to thank Dr Felicia Goh for her work as a research assistant in supporting the iMotions analysis of the video data in the IPP project, and hospital staff, patients and carers for their generous involvement.

Notes

1

We use the plural of emotions here to mean different conceptualisations of emotion that are available through theories that reflect different conceptualisations, ontologies and research paradigms.

2

In valuing multi-logicality, we start from an assertion that there is more than one ‘true’ definition of emotion.

3

In contrast to Hardy and Clegg’s (1997: s14) combatant ‘paradigm “warrior”’ metaphor, and Pernecky’s (2016: 194) description of paradigms as ‘habituated’ communities, camps is purposely used to connote neighbouring friends, impermanence, and a capacity to be de/reconstructed and combined.

4

Kemper’s (1990) examination of power and status adds a structural dimension to physiological studies of emotions in social life.

5

The Brady Bunch was a popular 1970s US television show. The open credits featured the synchronisation – into one screen – of video footage from separate cameras of all nine main characters. The Brady bunch effect refers to the practice of editing video footage taken from multiple angles or of multiple individuals so that this footage is synchronised on one screen (Framstad, 2016).

6

Entrainment refers to the synchronisation of verbal communication, non-verbal actions and ideas (Collins, 2004; Davis and Bellocchi 2019).

7

A lack of familiarity with norms may explain why the junior occupational therapist does not laugh.

8

There is ontological variation across the many theories grouped within this paradigmatic camp, ranging from historical realism to historical relativism.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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Rebecca E. OlsonUniversity of Queensland, Australia

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Alberto BellocchiQueensland University of Technology, Australia

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Ann DadichWestern Sydney University, Australia

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