Emotional discourses in the courtroom: women’s empowerment work in honour-related trials

Author: Johan Rosquist1
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  • 1 University of Gothenburg, , Sweden
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The article investigates emotional exchanges as manifestations of power through emotional body language. Subtle as well as obvious displays of emotion are related to the macro political renegotiation of power relations taking place out of court in light of the court case. The testimonies of women in trials investigating honour-related crimes include emotional displays of contempt, friendly intimacy, anger and resignation, each connecting to the sociology of emotions theories primarily of Clark, Katriel and Hochschild. These theories are in turn connected to the critical discourse analysis of Fairclough.

When emotions are analysed through the lens of critical discourse analysis as social practices manifested through (body) language, it highlights the significance and implications of emotions as signifiers of change. The empirical study suggests that critical discourse analysis and emotions theories analysing (body) language are both theoretically and empirically interconnected. This lays theoretical as well as methodological foundations for future studies, addressing the connection between emotions, discourse and power.

Abstract

The article investigates emotional exchanges as manifestations of power through emotional body language. Subtle as well as obvious displays of emotion are related to the macro political renegotiation of power relations taking place out of court in light of the court case. The testimonies of women in trials investigating honour-related crimes include emotional displays of contempt, friendly intimacy, anger and resignation, each connecting to the sociology of emotions theories primarily of Clark, Katriel and Hochschild. These theories are in turn connected to the critical discourse analysis of Fairclough.

When emotions are analysed through the lens of critical discourse analysis as social practices manifested through (body) language, it highlights the significance and implications of emotions as signifiers of change. The empirical study suggests that critical discourse analysis and emotions theories analysing (body) language are both theoretically and empirically interconnected. This lays theoretical as well as methodological foundations for future studies, addressing the connection between emotions, discourse and power.

Introduction

In this article, women’s place-claiming through emotion work highlights the role of emotions as signifiers of social change. I demonstrate that in situations where changes in power relations are at stake, emotions can play a significant role in the empowerment work of individuals. I claim that Hochschild’s (1979) definition of emotion work largely parallels Fairclough’s rather unexplored concept of semiotic practice as a form of ‘body language’ available for the analysis of discourse practice (Fairclough, 1989; 2013; Fairclough et al, 2003). Additionally, I suggest that the emotion work of actors ties into Clark’s (1990) theory of place-claiming in micro hierarchies, whereby place-claiming in effect constitutes a form of semiotic empowerment work. This combination suggests a meeting between the fields of sociology of emotions, on the one hand, and discourse analysis, on the other hand. The implications of such a meeting include extended possibilities for studying emotions as discursive signs of the renegotiation of power relations, and an extended empirical field for critical discourse studies.

This article is a reflection on observations of emotional outbursts and subtle moments of tenderness between family members and their acquaintances that are involved in trials investigating crimes related to honour in Swedish courts between 2015 and 2017. In this article, ‘honour’ is used in the specific context of so-called honour related crimes, a context that has emerged and gradually developed over the last 20 years in Sweden, and which involves oppression, violence against and sometimes even the murder of teenage girls and young women (and on less frequent occasions boys or young men) by other family members (Wikan, 2008; Schlytter and Rexvid, 2016).

Honour-related violence and oppression (HRV) is an expression used to address the collective term for the social control primarily of teenage girls and young women by other family members, with the intent of protecting the family’s honour and reputation in the eyes of the surrounding community. The control connects strongly to issues of sexuality and gender segregation, combined with a civic organisation where the family and clan is the most important unit of reference (Wikan, 1994; 2008; Ghanim, 2009; Gill et al, 2014). It thereby contrasts strongly with societies such as Sweden and other North European countries, where it is normally assumed that the state is the primary point of reference and gender segregation is assumed to be less prominent and is often actively resisted (Weiner, 2013; Berggren and Trägårdh, 2015). In Sweden, HRV has been a source of debate politically as well as in the media, and it is symbolically strongly associated with the 2002 murder of Fadime Sahindal by her father. Fadime publicly exposed her family’s traditional ways on behalf of other young women in a similar position. In police hearings and in court, her father claimed as motive a cleansing of the family honour. The ensuing debate gave rise to ideological claims associating the parental violence with structural explanations connected either to men’s violence against women in general, or to ethnic, religious or cultural constructions (Englund and Larsson, 2004; Ekström, 2009; Carbin, 2010; Ouis, 2015).

Research about HRV in relation to Swedish law has hitherto focused primarily on dilemmas faced by social services when facing family issues related to family honour (Schlytter, 2004; Björktomta, 2005; 2007; 2008; 2012; Schlytter and Kanakura, 2006; Baianstovu, 2012; 2017). To date, only a few minor articles have addressed the portrayal of HRV in criminal court records in Sweden (Eldén, 1998; Eldén and Westerstrand, 2004; Westerstrand, 2017). Internationally, some more extensive studies have addressed the conflict that arises between North European legal systems and HRV (van Eck, 2003; Welchman and Hossain, 2006; Gill and Brah, 2014). To my knowledge, however, no participant observation studies exist of HRV addressed in North European courtrooms.

The purpose of this article is to analyse subtle and forthright displays of emotion that take place and are observable in the relatively confined and exposing space of a courtroom, in order to attain a better understanding of how power is exercised in such confined and public settings. The outset is a wish to study how emotion work (Hochschild, 1979) can contribute to discourse through singling out the semiotic use of language. Semiosis is understood here as ‘the intersubjective production of meaning’ (Fairclough et al, 2003: 23). Fairclough (2013: 230) adds that ‘discourse analysis is concerned with various “semiotic modalities” of which language is only one (others are visual images and “body language”)’. In this article, I will argue that emotions are a form of ‘body language’ that conveys meanings on its own as well as in combination with (spoken) language. This relates to previous studies on ‘emotional discourses’ in the sense that discourses are expressed through a ‘language of affect’ (Katriel, 2015: 57–8; see also Ochs and Schieffelin, 1989; Lutz and Abu-Lughud, 1990). I see emotions as a social and hence a discourse practice capable of revealing the reproduction of power and/or possible or imminent renegotiations of power relations (Fairclough, 1989). I also take on a dimension of ‘the link between emotion and discourse’ that, according to Katriel (2015: 58) has hitherto been neglected ‘– the role of discourse as a strategic tool in evoking audiences’ emotional responses in the act of persuasion’.

The research question of this article is: How are power relations exercised in displays of emotions in courtrooms? The analysis will focus on three samples from participant observations of trials investigating honour-related crimes conducted between 2015 and 2017.

Emotions, social interaction and courtroom studies: an overview

The sociology of emotions questions and investigates the traditional Western distinction between cognitive and emotional processes, and how these are considered to affect and be affected by social events (Patulny and Olson, 2019; Wettergren, 2019). Most leading scholars in the field have agreed on the perspective that all cognitive processes are generated and stimulated by emotions, and that as social actors, we act on stimuli that are concurrently rational and emotional (Hochschild, 2019: 9). In other words, our emotions and rational understanding of their object are intertwined and inseparable (Wettergren, 2019: 27; see also Barbalet, 1998; 2002; 2011; Damasio, 2000). We act on emotions, but at the same time we are – to varying extents – cognitively aware of these emotions and how they affect us (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984; see also Hochschild, 2019). In this article, I present samples of events in which cognitive and emotional processes are quite obviously intertwined. In two of the samples, cognition and emotion seem to be intimately connected in more deliberate action. In another sample, the two seem to intertwine in a process of ‘mutual re-cognition’ of emotions between actors.

The relationship between emotions and power has been addressed by Kemper and Collins in their investigations of ‘micro interaction’. They assert that constructions of power and status have different implications on conduct in micro relationships. The former (power) compels ‘actors to do what they do not wish to do’, whereas the latter (status) ‘conveys voluntary compliance, deference, and acceptance’ from actors (Kemper and Collins, 1990: 32). Drawing on studies by Kemper and Scherer respectively, power relations are associated with ‘gratification’ or ‘satisfaction’ when actors experience an increase in power (or upheld power when a loss of power was anticipated), and with ‘fear or anxiety’ when they experience a loss of power (or non-increased power where this was anticipated) (Kemper and Collins, 1990: 56; see also Kemper, 1978; Scherer, 1984). The authors also claim that the power and status dimensions they have identified ‘can be aggregated for analytical purposes into social structures at the macro level’ (Kemper and Collins, 1990: 59). Scheer takes a different approach highly inspired by Bourdieu, providing a theoretical and methodological model for understanding the distribution of power in society as something ‘which is incorporated into the body and produces corresponding thinking, feeling, and behaviour’ (Scheer, 2012: 207). From this perspective, compelling (or coercive) orders or logics are – partially or completely – reproduced through the emotional experiences of subjects as these engage in daily ‘micro and macro acts of body and language’ (Scheer, 2012: 208). In this article, the criminal charges that have brought about the trial situations imply that previously existing power relationships between family members may be subject to renegotiation. This provides a link between the micro action of the courtroom and the macro action of the sociocultural context outside the court proceedings. The samples also indicate how such power renegotiations can be articulated through emotional body language as well as words.

The study of emotions in courts should be considered as springing from two highly diverse fields, although overlaps often occur. One field, often referred to as ‘law and emotion’ stems from the field of jurisprudence, and concerns itself with how emotions affect the legal process itself in terms of testimony evaluations, compassion’s role in the rule of law, verdicts and so on (Bandes, 1996; 2009; 2017; Kahan and Nussbaum, 1996). The sociology of emotions field takes a greater interest in the sociological aspects of the interaction that takes place in the courtroom as an arena, with an interest in more general sociological implications of that interaction (Maroney, 2011; 2012; Scarduzio, 2011; 2015; Maroney and Gross, 2014; Bergman Blix and Wettergren, 2016; 2018a; 2018b). In a collective volume, Bandes abridges the two fields, thus illustrating the proximity between them (Bandes, 1999). The former can be described as a field that to a large extent disregards the social events in court that do not have a concern for the legal process, whereas the latter addresses the social events in court that do not necessarily have a concern for the legal process (Hydén, 2002: 15–17; Rosquist, 2020: 29). The reflections I present here are closely tied to the latter. In fact, the activities I address tie very closely to Hochschild’s (1979: 561) definition of emotion work: ‘To “work on” an emotion or feeling is, for our purposes, the same as “to manage” an emotion or to do “deep acting”.’ I claim that Hochschild describes a highly social activity.

To my knowledge, whereas plentiful studies address the emotion work of court professionals (that is, those employed by or in the court such as judges, lawyers, prosecutors and so on), no study places a focus on emotion work conducted exclusively by actors who do not appear in court on a daily or professional basis, such as suspects, plaintiffs and witnesses. In that sense, this study makes an important contribution to the field of sociology of emotions with respect to courtroom field studies.

In summary, the contributions I make in this article to the sociology of emotions are: (1) empirical examples of how cognitive and emotional processes intertwine in the confined social arena of courtrooms; (2) a link between emotions and discourse through an analysis of how emotional (body-language) micro action in the courtroom reflect a power renegotiation concurrently taking place in the sociocultural macro action outside the court proceedings; and (3) an empirical study of how non-professional actors in courtrooms interchange in emotional discourse practice.

Power, discourse and communication through emotions

In this article, ‘power relations’ refer to a state of hierarchy between individuals and/or groups, legitimised and upheld through the ideological use of language (Fairclough, 1989: 2). Language, as already mentioned, is a social practice that involves not only speech and texts, but also semiotic practices such as body language. The ideological use of language, or discourse practice, is both a means and an end; power relations are sustained through language, but power relations also play a role in shaping the language we use to describe the world around us (Fairclough, 2013: 95–6). When we accept the description of a power relationship as ‘common sense,’ then we legitimise it. Conversely, if we question or resist existing descriptions of ‘common sense,’ the ideological use of language can anticipate or accomplish social change.

Candace Clark’s perspective on power is somewhat different, although I will argue that her theory of ‘micro-hierarchy’ in face-to-face relations fits in well with power relations sustained through language, including the ‘body language’ of emotions. Clark associates states of hierarchy in everyday life with the ‘social place’ of actors. ‘In the micro-hierarchy of a given encounter, one person has higher standing or a higher place than others, even if we are ostensibly peers or intimates’ (Clark, 1990: 306). Social places ascribe differences in status and shape communicative activities. Communicative activities can also indicate the social place of oneself and others through the assertion (or denial) of status. By putting people ‘in their place’, actors can assert and make use of a dominant position. For instance, a teacher instructing or reprimanding a student asserts authority and maintains a dominant power relationship. The type or origin of dominance will affect the types of emotional displays made available to the teacher. Does the dominance derive from pedagogical experience (showing empowerment), the power of passing or failing the student (being intimidating) or greater physical size (being angry or threatening)? Conversely, can a teacher better reach the student by reducing the difference in hierarchy (offering collegial support) or appealing to the student’s own feelings (showing disappointment)? Furthermore, if the teacher is intimidating, angry or threatening, s/he may be called to the principal for a reprimand of her/his own. In that situation, the teacher must use other strategies (and emotions) to acknowledge the principal’s higher status, such as shame or regret. Different assignments of status call for different strategies. Each possible type of emotion work asserts a possible status relationship between individuals. Emotions can thus be seen as strategic tools capable of establishing or renegotiating relations of power.

Clark (1990: 309) makes a distinction between ‘self-targeted’ emotions (those we reflect on ourselves) and ‘other-targeted’ emotions (those we reflect on others). The teacher in the example above, displaying self-targeted guilt over reprimanding a student in a wrongful manner, can also display other-targeted respect towards the principal. Both displays indicate one’s place with respect to the other and thereby indicate how the teacher views the power relationship. The principal might in turn display self-targeted disappointment and other-targeted superiority (toward the teacher). On the other hand, the principal might think that the teacher has done the right thing by reprimanding the student in a harsh manner. In that case, the principal may display self-targeted respect and other-targeted collegiality. Depending on the emotions felt and displayed, the relative placement of the teacher and principal could indicate quite different status and power relations. This indicates that when power relations are transient or negotiable, displays of emotions can reflect that state of transience.

In this article the majority of emotions displayed are other-targeted. This links to Katriel’s argument mentioned above, that one way of analysing emotional discourses is to view these as strategic tools to evoke responses from an audience. She calls this an ‘emotion-evocative discourse’ (Katriel, 2015: 58). I interpret the ‘receiver’ of an other-targeted emotion as a very particular member of the audience, and claim that this receiver’s acknowledgement of the emotion is concurrently an acknowledgement of the transient power relationship displayed through the emotion.

I previously referred to Hochschild’s definition of emotion work as the management of emotions, or making the emotion fit in with a situation. Hochschild uses the term ‘feeling rules’ to indicate ‘guidelines for the assessment of fits and misfits between feeling and situation’. She connects this to a Durkheim/Geertz/Goffman-inspired understanding of ideology, an ‘interpretive framework’ through which feeling rules are combined with ‘framing rules’, by which she refers ‘to the rules according to which we ascribe definitions or meanings to situations’ (Hochschild, 1979: 566). My interpretation of this is that when power relations are upheld or reproduced, the emotion work of actors generally corresponds with the framing rules. Body language and other emotional expressions will fit in with an expected norm. If there is a misfit between the expected and actual behaviour, then this is an indicator of an attempted renegotiation of existing power relations. Emotional outbursts (of anger, disappointment, happiness and so on) or subtle but out-of-the-order non-verbal communication (of intimacy, empathy and so on) could indicate that the meaning-making framing rules dictated by the dominant power relationship are called into question, and thereby the power relations themselves.

The sociology of emotions puts a focus on how emotions contribute to the meaning-making of a situation (Hochschild, 1979; Collins, 1990; Scheff, 1990). Collins (1990: 27–8) makes a claim for the analysis of emotions, stating that ‘what holds a society together – the “glue” of solidarity – and what mobilizes conflict – the energy of mobilized groups – are emotions; so is what operates to uphold stratification – hierarchical feeling, whether dominant, subservient, or resentful’.

Emotions can signify and assert the existence of a collective whole, but they can also indicate the breaking apart of a collective or a collective in a transient stage. They can also indicate – through the emotional displays (indicating dominance, subservience, or resentment) of involved actors – whether a given hierarchy is upheld or under negotiation. As I have drawn from Clark (1990) above, emotions can be seen as strategic tools capable of establishing but also renegotiating relations of power. For example, a patriarchal or class structure that is actively resented by the traditionally subservient, disrupts an expected pattern of events, suggesting a renegotiation of structural terms.

To most people (that is, people who do not work in the courts) court rooms are not an ‘everyday life situation’ in the sense that Clark (1990: 306) refers to in her description of micro politics in the ‘social place’. On the contrary, most people will spend at most only a few days of their lives in a court room, and normally will not have gone there by their own free will. At the same time, a court room is a place where power and status can be in a very high stage of transience. An abusive husband may be on trial, accused not only by his wife but (symbolically through the prosecutor) by an entire society. A high-profile celebrity may be on trial for anything from tax evasion to rape. The court mission of investigating a situation and – if necessary – right a wrong through conviction and sanctions, creates an arena in which previously existing relations of power and status enter a state of limbo. During court investigations of honour-related crimes, the power relations of a family and the status ascribed to individual family members are destabilised (Rosquist, 2020). The head of a family is often on trial and – if convicted – will find his capacity for action highly restricted for a long period, with respect to society in general but – perhaps more significantly – with respect to the family. This affects the status of family members with respect to each other, as well as the family’s status with respect to other families (Weiner, 2013; Brinkemo and Lundberg, 2018; Rosquist, 2020). The court becomes an arena for the renegotiation of power relations. Using the theoretical framework above, I explore that arena.

‘Backtracking’ emotions in courtrooms

The three empirical samples that follow are excerpts from my field notes taken during participant observations of court cases in Sweden between 2015 and 2017. All the court cases had in some way – for example, through the media or by a claim from the state prosecutor – come to be associated with honour and HRV. A court room is what Marshall and Rossman call a ‘realistic site’. Such arenas fulfil five criteria: (a) availability; (b) a high probability of a mix of processes, individuals, interactions, and structures suitable for the study; (c) it is likely that the research will be able to build trusting relations with the involved people; (d) the study can be conducted according to ethical standards; and (e) the quality and plausibility of the data collection can be considered fulfilled (Marshall and Rossman, 2016: 106–7; see also Rosquist, 2020: 85–9). Permission to conduct research of court records and hearings was granted by the Swedish Ethical Review Authority in 2015. All names and places have been changed or disguised to protect the integrity of individuals.

The primary area of interest of my dissertation concerned how the term honour (in the context of HRV) was negotiated at different levels of the Swedish legal system, including court hearings. In other words, my main research focused on discourse through spoken and written language, not discourse through emotions. In addition to notes from court hearings, the material includes police investigation records and court records from (primarily) honour killings, as well as government policy documents tracking the discourse of honour from when the word (in this context) first appeared in the Swedish language in January, 1997, until the initiation of a legislative process to specify HRV as a form of crime distinct from other crimes in the Swedish Code of Justice. The samples discussed in this article are unexpected events that have empirical value for the study of power relations related to honour and HRV as they appear in court.

As my notetaking focused on other events, the validity of my observations of emotions in the courtroom calls for some reflection. My regular notes focused on how discourses about honour emerge in courtroom interrogations – that is, in speech. The observed emotions appear in my field notes primarily as my reflections on observed events that go beyond speech. The ‘process of discovery’ corresponds to what Bergman Blix as well as Wettergren call ‘emotional participation’ (Bergman Blix, 2009; Wettergren, 2015). Wettergren describes how during observations and taking field notes, ‘I did experience and participate in the emotions of the field’ by reflexively identifying with different actors and their respective emotions (Wettergren, 2015: 118). She describes participating despite the fact that as an observer, her concern was concurrently with not disturbing – that is, getting physically involved with – the field. A courtroom is an arena where ‘not disturbing the field’ is an obvious necessity during sessions, and due to the already exposed position of the observed actors, I did not find it ethically acceptable to later approach them for interviews. As a result, I was left to my reconstruction of (and reflections on) events as they appeared in my field notes.

Wettergren also refers to the ‘backtracking’ (Wettergren, 2015:121–2) of emotions through the rereading of field notes. She describes how she frames events in terms of the emotion that surrounds them, using expressions of anger in a migration situation as an example. Wettergren makes a cognitive identification of ‘anger’ in the observed ‘frontliner’s’ (border control worker’s) raised and upset voice, and a corresponding response of ‘shame’ from the scolded migrant. Wettergren notes that the emotion words are not a part of her original field notes, but that they are derived from her description and recollection of events; ‘emotions tend to be concealed in the data. The analysis has to backtrack from the action to the emotion; or to shift focus from the action that is described to the emotion that accompanies it’ (Wettergren, 2015: 115). In my field notes, I made reflective comments (in italics to distinguish them from observed events) on silent exchanges of kind and confiding glances (intimacy), in contrast to gazes of coolness and indifference (rejection). From these notes I backtracked to the interpretation of a ‘game of silence’ between different actors who – due to court restrictions – were unable to engage in regular conversation.

Having backtracked the emotions from the field notes, Wettergren found that her original tendency to ‘side’ with the migrants was somewhat balanced:

I had entered the field with sympathy for, and a readiness to pick up on, what the migrants felt. But now I had to ask myself if the migrants were really worthy of this sympathy – whether they were responsible for making things worse for themselves, as the frontliners argued. (Wettergren, 2015:118)

As I backtracked my field notes, I found a similar ‘revelation’. I had entered the courtrooms in search of discourses about honour-related violence, but what I actually observed were non-violent acts that I gradually came to realise nevertheless connected to power relations that could be associated with honour. Some of these non-violent acts and their accompanying emotions are rendered below. The events connect to power relations under renegotiation in the investigation of crimes described or depicted as honour related.

Results

Sample one: wife, husband and brother-in-law

The first sample concerns a case where two brothers (here called Ali and Safwan) were accused of murdering a man who had spread rumours about Ali on a Facebook page. Ali’s wife (Rana) had filed for divorce around the time when the brothers were arrested, indicating a break-up of the husband-wife relationship. Rana was indicted for some relatively minor crimes,1 and therefore also present in court throughout the five-week trial. Throughout the proceedings, Rana actively avoided eye contact with Ali, and would demonstrably seat herself so that she was turned away from him (something the room and furniture setup did not require her to do). By contrast, however, she would seek and hold eye contact with Safwan, her brother-in-law, often smiling and raising her eyebrows. During one break for example, she approached Safwan’s lawyer and asked him to deliver some money to Safwan.2 Although no words were ever spoken, there was a clear distinction in the emotions displayed by Rana towards the brothers.3

My interest in this sample concerns Rana’s unspoken but clear display of different emotions, from indifference towards her husband to an almost intimate communication with her brother-in-law. How does Clark’s theory of micro hierarchies of place tie into the semiotic practice at hand here, and what does this say about how the negotiations of family power relationships now that conditions have changed?

According to Clark (with a reference to Goffman), hierarchies are created and negotiated through the assertion of one’s social place with respect to others. ‘We want to know where we stand, relative to others, at a given moment. And we want to have a say in negotiating our standing’ (Clark, 1990: 305; see also Goffman, 1951: 297). Rana’s conduct during the trial can be seen as a claim on new power relations within the family based on status. It might be expected that she would show her husband support or encouragement during the trial, but instead she displays an intimate, yet platonic allegiance with her brother-in-law. This is akin to ‘everyday forms of resistance’ whereby ‘a truculent look, a defiant posture – signal a public breaking of the ritual of subordination’ (Scott, 1990: 196; see also Guha, 1983). The husband (Ali) is relegated to a status of less importance through Rana’s subtle, yet open defiance. Rana’s additional display of allegiance to Safwan further enhances that Ali is not in her eyes the most important male person in the family. The fact that this is done in a public place where everyone and anyone can witness Rana’s subtle but open display provides additional support of my claim that the display of emotions is deliberate and meaning-making.

The change of status can also be described as emotional empowerment work on behalf of Rana. Wijnendaele defines empowerment ‘as a process of cultivating new forms of subjectivity, thereby recognizing the micro-politics of self-transformation as an important part of larger social change and of the macro-political agenda’. She addresses the combined ‘role of emotions and embodied knowledges in reproducing and challenging existing power relations at different local and global scales’ (Wijnendaele, 2014: 267–8). In Rana’s and Ali’s respective witness statements, the power relations as a married couple (before the arrests) indicate a highly patriarchal household. Rana is asked by the prosecutor if she ever questioned the family’s frequent trips to Turkey, where Ali would take one or two of their children with him, leaving Rana and the rest of the family to stay with relatives and wait for his return a few weeks later.4 Rana replies several times that it was not ‘her place’ to question or challenge her husband. Likewise, Ali is asked whether Rana ever questioned him, whereupon he replied that it was not ‘her place’ to do so, and if she had he would have ignored her. “I would never take orders from a woman.”5

Rana’s courtroom manner – openly displaying that she chooses to ignore her husband – is in my interpretation a means for Rana to show that the tables are turned. She now assumes a position of being able to ignore him, which contrasts against the respective place of the husband-and-wife relation before the arrests. Using emotional signals, Rana indicates a change in status and power. I interpret the emotional signaling as a cognitive embodiment of Rana’s newly found empowerment and an indicator of an experienced social change. This shift in power relations is exercised through subtle but repeated displays of emotions, but the enclosed arena of the courtroom make the displays clear and obvious. This semiotic use of body language suggests that – for Rana at least – things have changed.

The micro politics of this triangle of power relations do not end there, however. We must also take into account Rana’s repeated displays of allegiance to her brother-in-law, Safwan – and his equally respectful acknowledgment of this. I interpret Rana’s conduct as a self-conscious and other-directed emotion to pass a message of allegiance to Safwan. This is very similar to the – as I understand it both conscious and strategic – anger display by ‘frontliners’ against refugees in Wettergren’s aforementioned study (Wettergren, 2015: 115). The emotion in my example, however, is practically the opposite of anger. Rana indicates through her conduct that Safwan – in her eyes – now has a higher status than Ali, her (soon to be ex-) husband. By extension, she indicates that the family must still stick together. I describe honour practice as a discourse consisting of two key elements: a view that the clan or family is the most important unit of identification and a gender-based separation (or segregation) of roles and positions within the family or clan. The maintenance of the family as a solidified unit in which each family member has and is aware of one’s place (based on gender and age) is a key premise in a discourse that maintains a specific social order and predictability (Rosquist, 2020: 34–5; see also Wikan, 2008; Weiner, 2013; Baianstovu, 2017). One common assumption in an honour practice discourse is that the head of the household is the oldest male person.6 Through her other-directed display of respectful intimacy, Rana engages in an emotion-based ‘interaction ritual’ – in Collins’ interpretation of Goffmann – in which she symbolically indicates that Safwan has taken over the role as head of Rana’s household previously held by Ali, thus indicating to those watching that in her view, there is a way for the family to maintain its stability. The ‘glue of solidarity’ of the family group is thus maintained through a symbolic interactionist usage of emotional – semiotic – body language (Collins, 1990: 27–8). In the courtroom, where previously existing relations of power and status are called into question, Rana finds means of asserting her own empowerment and show those watching that the family unit is still intact, albeit rearranged.

Hanan and her attorney

The second sample concerns a woman (Hanan) who many years earlier had been having an affair with the abovementioned Ali. In this part of the trial, Ali was tried for extortion, as he had taken pictures while the two had been intimate, and he had threatened to post the pictures on social media so that the surrounding community would officially know about the affair.7 Hanan’s testimony began in the afternoon and continued the next morning. In the first of these sessions, she told her story with the guidance of first the state attorney and then her plaintiff’s attorney.8 The plaintiff’s attorney addressed how the publication would affect Hanan’s honour:

Plaintiff’s attorney (PA):‘What would it mean for you if [Ali] had published the pictures or shown them to someone?’
Hanan:‘This would truly destroy, obliterate my life. My relatives would cut my throat … I did this in order to protect my three children, myself and my honour … If he were to do that with the pictures it would be the end of me. I would take my life if that happened.’
PA:‘Can you tell us a little bit more about how you feel?’[long silence, Hanan regards the prosecutor with resignation and contempt]
Hanan:‘There is nothing more to say.’9

The dialogue itself can be seen as a lack of knowledge from Swedish court professionals about the mechanisms and implications of honour practice (Rosquist, 2020), and Hanan’s reaction to this ignorance. Hanan’s first reply is a very real description of what would likely happen to her: she would be ‘obliterated’. When the plaintiff’s attorney asks Hanan to elaborate further, Hanan reacts in a way indicating that she feels her attorney has not taken her first reply seriously, that it seems like an exaggeration that needs clarification. Hanan is insulted by this, and indicates this through a semiotic, emotional ‘body language’.

In this sample I am interested in the body language of ‘resignation and contempt’ shown by Hanan towards her attorney, who is implicitly on her side. In what ways does the show of emotion add to the power relations at hand in this conversation?

By showing resignation and contempt – and through the elongated silence before finally replying – Hanan puts an emotional charge into her reply. The resignation is connected to the meaning-making of the word ‘obliterated’. The threat of – literal and physical – obliteration is portrayed as real to Hanan and to the honour-practising group with which her attorney identifies her. She might in fact be taking a great risk by testifying and making the adultery public. Her display of resignation is an acknowledgement of that risk within the context of her group (Collins, 1990).

Whereas the resignation is a self-targeted emotion, the contempt shown towards the attorney is other-targeted. The attorney has delved into the topic of honour, and by what I have indicated in my field notes, it seems that Hanan was unprepared for this. Hanan’s contempt relegates the attorney to a status of ignorant on this topic. The combination of self-targeted and other-targeted emotions provides a mutual re-cognition of the attorney’s ignorance. Hanan has described something very real and concrete, whereas the attorney seems to interpret the physical danger in the context of abstract or symbolic meaning-making. The attorney seems to catch on to Hanan’s contempt and hurriedly moves on to other topics.

Hanan’s reaction can also be interpreted as a micro political claim of empowerment on behalf of her group. We can choose to see this group as ‘migrant women who are essentialised as victims’. Critique has been raised on behalf of migrant women, because of a Eurocentric tendency to bunch this group into a victimised and unsuspecting whole, and whose stories of victimisation are often also rendered in the abstract, with little attention to individuals or details (de los Reyes, 2003; 2004; see also Spivak, 1987; Mohanty, 2003; Carbin, 2010). Hanan is here given an opportunity to tell her story and make visible the threat under which she has lived. When she thinks she has finished her story, the impression is that even her own attorney hasn’t listened to her. Hanan’s show of contempt then becomes a natural reaction to a Eurocentric ambivalence with respect to the reality of Hanan’s position as a victim.

Hanan and her extortionist

The third sample concerns an emotional ‘outburst’ from Hanan that took place as her testimony continued the following morning. As we gathered outside the courtroom, the state prosecutor approached Safwan’s lawyer and told him that Hanan had requested that he not be present during the testimony. This was relayed to Safwan and the judge, and as Safwan was not involved in this particular part of the case, Hanan’s request was granted. The testimony continued with rebuttal questions from Ali’s lawyer. Just a few minutes into the testimony, Hanan suddenly rose up, pointing at Ali and shouting things to him in Arabic. The outburst went on for less than half a minute, then she sat back down. She recomposed herself in a matter of seconds, and the testimony continued without any further incident. Ali looked surprised at first. Then, as Hanan sat back down, he smiled and laughed quietly to himself. In the break afterwards, I asked one of the interpreters what Hanan had said. She had told Ali that he was the dishonourable one, that this had nothing to do with her honour.10

This sample is interesting for two reasons. The first reason is Hanan’s obvious planning of the incident, requesting that Ali’s brother not be present, which I interpret as a symbolic gesture to leave Ali’s family out of the dispute. It must be recalled here that in an HRV context, honour is associated with whole families, not with individuals, so the demarcation between Ali as a person and the rest of Ali’s family has a symbolic (and possibly political) significance. The second reason is the performativity of the emotional ‘outburst’ and its connection to formations and reformations of power. What is negotiated here, and how do emotions connect to the semiotic practice of discourse?

The first issue, that of asking Ali’s brother not be present, has some parallel to the status demarcation between the brothers made by Ali’s wife, Rana. Once again, the brothers are treated differently in a micro political act of emotion. In this case, Safwan is ‘spared from’ enduring Hanan’s anger, which is an other-oriented act of kindness or respect from Hanan towards Safwan. Given and exercising the option to step out of the room – even though it is unlikely he knew what was about to happen – provides a symbolic means of distinguishing the family from Ali. In other words, sparing somebody from displays of emotion can also be a means of exercising micro politics.

Conversely, through this symbolic gesture, Ali becomes the focal point of Hanan’s anger. Hanan’s ‘selection’ of recipients of her anger is, in my view, a form of strategic meaning-making. By excluding one (or more) from the scene of emotion, Hanan clearly implies that group attachment is not at stake here. This is a personal issue between Ali and herself.

The anger display, which includes the personal dishonouring of Ali, is a highly emotional form of retribution for Hanan. The display itself interferes with the emotional management work constantly conducted by court professionals to maintain order and control in the courtroom (Scarduzio, 2011; 2015), which brings to the spectators’ attention that Hanan is renegotiating the power relations between Ali and herself. If we see the extortion (and the attached threat of making the adultery public) as a particularly cynical form of power claim on Ali’s part, then Hanan’s emotional rebuttal is a powerful means of ‘putting Ali in his place’. Concurrently, Hanan’s retribution can be seen as a reclaiming of her power and dignity as a woman. Where her power and dignity had still been in question during the interrogation on the previous day, with this outburst she makes use of the courtroom’s dramatic setting to reclaim them. She makes a cognitive and emotional place-claiming that (re-)instates her honour, while Ali, in his position as an indicted suspect, is stripped of his.

Discussion

In this article, I have provided three examples of how changes and negotiations of power relations in courtrooms are exercised through emotions. I have viewed emotions as a semiotic form of language by which I mean ‘the intersubjective production of meaning’ (Fairclough et al, 2003: 23). I have focused on primarily non-verbal language production, and even where words have been involved, I have focused on how things are said rather than what is being said. In my analysis, I have focused on the implications of the emotional ‘delivery’ or production of language, or what Hochschild (1979) would call emotion work. What is exercised or achieved between subjects in these interchanges, and how does this indicate social change? Katriel (2015: 58) offers the following: ‘Studying the language of emotion in given social settings is one way of illuminating the ways in which specific emotional configurations inform the discursive construction and negotiation of self-identities, social relationships, and moral sensibilities.’

The emotions communicated in the samples above have specific receivers of the communication, and the receivers have also acknowledged and sometimes exercised resistance to the emotion-evocative discourse. Katriel (2015: 58) points out that ‘discourse is both emotionally coloured by the speaker’s stance, and calls forth some kind of emotional response – including indifference – on the part of listeners’. Furthermore, as Hochschild points out, the ‘outcome’ – or success – of emotion work relates to eliciting feelings in others, not to whether or not you not your underlying purpose (if you have one) is fulfilled (Hochshild, 1979: 561). In other words, other-directed emotions must be seen in the light of being both produced and consumed within the observed social setting. The production and consumption of an emotional display is analogically connected to what in (Fairclough’s) critical discourse analysis is called discourse practice (Fairclough, 2013: 94), and which in turn is the link between the text (or body language) and the sociocultural context relating to the text (or body language) (Fairclough, 1989: 25). By extension, we can conclude that, at least within some social settings, critical discourse analysis and emotional (body) language are both theoretically and empirically connected.

Analysing emotions through the lens of critical discourse analysis as social practices manifested through (body) language highlights the significance and implications of emotions as signifiers of social change. Power relations refer to a general hierarchy within or between groups, and micro political social claims of status. Clark calls the emotional assertion or indication of status ‘place claims’. ‘In the course of interaction people may actively and intentionally instigate emotions in each other and themselves. They do so to shape definitions of situations and of self’ (Clark, 1990: 314). We have seen three examples of women asserting their status through emotional place-claiming within the courtroom. The Swedish courtroom can be seen as an arena in which the honour-based clan and gender segregation contexts are neutralised. Suspects and plaintiffs are (re)constructed as individual suspects, victims and witnesses, rather than as family members with certain positions based on gender and age. In this arena, women claim the space to express place-claiming emotions, exercising their rights and opportunities where they might not otherwise be able to do so. The women assert their status with respect to men as well as Swedish court professionals with little or no knowledge about the implications of honour practice. Women are able to cognitively and emotionally embody an empowerment process and thus exercise a transformation from one state of power relations to another. By taking other subject positions than they otherwise might (outside the courtroom), women (as well as other individuals representing other categories) can make meaning and exercise power as individuals.

The research field of HRV, and in particular the part of the field that – like this study – departs from a Western, Eurocentric perspective, tends to focus on women in or from honour-practicing societies as defenceless victims of non-negotiable circumstances. The results of this study, however, suggest that these women do engage in everyday power negotiations and clearly have cognitive claims of their own. However, these claims have hitherto received little recognition in HRV research. The courtroom is an arena where such renegotiations are relatively easy to observe, and one task of future research would be to find other arenas where such observations of empowerment work could be conducted. I would suggest parent-teacher conferences as well as formal and informal discussions in relation to (adult) second-language classes as such possible arenas. Using the theoretical and methodological framework suggested above, it is my belief that notions of place-claiming, and possibly the honour-related concept of blame suggested by Hochschild (1979: 566) might be brought to light. Such research would bring Western society closer to understanding the micro hierarchies of a number of migrant groups, as well as the negotiations taking place therein.

Notes

1

The case involved seven different crimes in total.

2

The brothers were both placed under so-called full restrictions, which meant that they were not allowed (nor able) to communicate with each other in custody. This is a fairly normal form of proceedings during Swedish crime investigations, primarily to avoid the risk of collusion. When suspects are passing jail time (that is, during the crime investigation and until the court verdict), particularly when under full restrictions, they have very little opportunity to earn money to buy, for instance, snacks and cigarettes. At the time of the trial, the brothers had been under arrest with full restrictions for nine months. Sweden has often been criticized for this form of isolation in combination with lengthy crime investigations. Rana was accused of relatively minor crimes and therefore not in custody.

3

Field notes.

4

The purpose of the trips was a complex arrangement of smuggling refugees into Sweden.

5

Field notes.

6

Although the patriarch (father, uncle, grandfather) as head of the family is a common assumption, it should not be presumed that this is always the case. Mothers (and sons who have reached puberty) can also assume responsibility for keeping a family together – although this usually seems to happen in the absence of an older male family member (Schlytter and Rexvid, 2016; Rosquist, 2020).

7

For a description of the significance of the distinction between ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ awareness about adultery in honour-practising societies, see Wikan (1994).

8

A plaintiff’s attorney [målsägandebiträde] is a lawyer appointed by the court to guard the interests of victims of crime (plaintiffs, in legal terms). The state attorney concentrates on proving that a crime has been committed, while the plaintiff’s attorney concentrates on the damage done to the victim. The state attorney and plaintiff’s attorney often coordinate their questions asked to the plaintiff as well as the defendant.

9

Field notes.

10

Field notes.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

Acknowledgements

This article is the final product of a tentative idea first presented at the Sociology of Emotions course held jointly by the University of Copenhagen, Aalborg University and University of Gothenburg in the autumn of 2019. Special thanks go to my inspirational and enthusiastic seminar group and particularly to our seminar leader Poul Poder, whose critical reading and constructive comments set the early manuscript on the right course. I am also greatly indebted to my two anonymous editors, whose suggestions substantially improved the original submission.

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