Waffles and sausages and summer rain. It is pleasantly warm in Hamburg and the pavement has that smell that comes after a rain shower. The city emits a host of other city-in-the-summer smells, sending each of us back to past times. Someone remembers the happiness of walking home from school on steaming, wet-smelling tarmac. A woman is smiling at the memory of eating waffles in the park, the syrup running down her chin. A man stops to sniff the smell of sausages in the air, not quite like the ones at ‘home’. Suddenly he feels homesick. At the university, a conference begins: the smell of linoleum blends with the particular aroma of coffee poured out of a university catering flask. Standing next to the coffee are colleagues from the Emotions Research Network in their full corporeal form. Some are taller than we remember; we have to lean up for the hug. Others have a smile that is just so good to see in person. As we encounter each other and interact after two years of online conferences, the importance of the full range of our senses becomes clear and the feelings and memories flow.
The European Sociological Association Emotions Research Network (ESA RN11) is having its mid-term meeting in Hamburg. It is the end of August 2022, and with a mixture of alarm and delight the long-standing members of the network are realising that it will soon be 20 years since our first mid-term in Augsburg, Germany, in 2004. We think back to that time, just 15 of us in a meeting room in a hotel. Smells of breakfast, hotel carpet, beer and meat. We gave papers, but we had more time for discussion. There was much discussion about how to define emotions. What is an emotion? How do we feel? What conceptual tools might be useful for understanding feelings? The sociology of emotions was still a relatively new field, certainly in Europe, and most of us were learning about it. There was uncertainty, but also excitement. We read with and against the North American literature, offered our own empirical material and discussed the problems of researching emotions. We began to get to know each other. It seemed we might like each other and that was important.
During the intervening years, RN11 became one of the few ESA research networks that never misses the chance to arrange mid-term conferences, and these gatherings between the ESA conferences are indeed the most stimulating, both academically and socially. Each year RN11 meets and each year our liking for each other can be confirmed and new people can be welcomed, although growing is not always free from rancour. After a few years, many more people are turning up to business meetings. There are no longer 15 people in a room; by 2015 the conferences have several parallel sessions. As sociologists know, the larger organisations become, the more they must be formalised to survive. Informal welcomes cannot be relied on to ensure inclusion. There needs to be a shift from a small number of tight-knit members who know the ropes by tradition, to more formal procedures to ensure the processes of running the network are transparent and inclusive. But emotions remain important and, whether there from the start or recently joined, it is a liking for each other and an excitement and enthusiasm for each other’s work that keeps people returning to gatherings of the network. Grudges are overcome, most disagreements do not feel grumpy or rancorous but are enjoyed as more of an intellectual challenge. One year Christian von Scheve gives a paper telling us why we should pay attention to affect theory (later published as von Scheve, 2018). The following year Katharina Scherke (see Scherke, 2009) tells us why we should not bother. Perhaps you had to be there? Network members often do emotion work to encourage and reassure scholars new to these scholarly discussions. Yet all is not harmony. One year, long-standing members can be seen struggling to be patient when a young theorist gives a paper about how we need to be more precise in our definitions. “What is an emotion?” he asks. A sigh goes around, as his question takes some of us back to that hotel room in Augsburg. Those who were ‘there’ feel frustrated, bored. We have had that conversation; we want to move on. For others, this is new and exciting. This is learning; it circles – or does it spiral? – is everyone at a new place after this discussion? Perhaps we need to question the relevance of the memories of a few older members of the network, but is it also important to try to avoid intellectual amnesia (see, for example, Curthoys, 2003)? Preserving the past and looking to the future can be difficult to balance; swinging between the dangers of nostalgia (Scherke, 2018) and cliques and the tempting excitement of the new. The presence of over 120 participants at Hamburg in 2022 and their feedback provide some evidence that participating in the network feels pleasant and stimulating. However, the young theorist asking for a definition of emotions did not return to the network in the following years. Was he not made to feel he belonged? Did he carry a grudge?
In Hamburg, the first keynote was called ‘grudge’, and in it, Professor Sighard Neckel (2023) developed an argument about the varieties of emotion that accompany resentment. He is the author of a classic piece on emotions and social inequality (still waiting for the translation to English): Status und Scham. Zur symbolischen Reproduktion sozialer Ungleichheit (1991). We reproduce a written version of his keynote in this issue. At the conference, when the keynote ended, some of the audience members turned to each other with a smile. “Good,” one said. “Very good,” another replied. The enjoyment was made stronger by having sat and listened together, elbows leaning on the desk connecting our lecture theatre seats. But we hope you enjoy this written version and see how powerful the talk was. A grudge is described as rolling thunder, and its twin – rancour – is beautifully described as an internal feeling protected like a treasure. Holding a grudge seems to be about how that treasuring is sustained over time. Is a grudge like rancour made into a thing, a possession? Or is it an emotional memory? Grudges might thus seem both starkly individual and yet relational, a product of power. Who must keep or forget rancour, who can give vent to it? Who can exchange their internal grudge for the satisfaction of revenge? Neckel takes us through different examples of these emotions associated with resentment and makes a case for the importance of differentiating them from each other. He argues that those who are privileged can afford to be scornful and disgusted while those who are disadvantaged are forced to hold their grudges. Yet, he reminds us of empowerment as a tool for overcoming feelings of inferiority without ‘othering’ the unpleasant emotions that arise from social inequalities. In doing so he evokes the origin of such uses of empowerment within the US civil rights movement.
The second keynote at the Hamburg mid-term was presented by Olga Sabido Ramos (2023), Professor of Sociology at the Metropolitan Autonomous University, Mexico. Her keynote focused on the connection between the bodily senses like smells, memory and emotions. Our senses link us to particular times and places. In this issue, she presents an essay version that, like the talk, conjures up the smells and emotions of Mexico City. Through a methodology of engaging city dwellers in olfactory walks, she has examined how people follow smells. For the women (and some men) at the centre of Ramos’s account, the city makes them feel fear of violence and the pollution assaults their senses. They remember their interactions with some strangers as intrusions: an invasive fearful touch, a disgusting smell. As they walk through the city, the smog and the traffic noise remind them of the poor material conditions, of insecurity, of the impact of the city on their bodies. They are tempted by, or resist, the commodification of the senses within the shops and spaces of the city. As they interact with human and non-human actors, her participants follow smells that remind them of emotional bonds. Using the work of Georg Simmel, Ramos develops a relational approach to understanding emotions, senses and bodies. Emotions and senses are reciprocally connected, through experiences, practices and sensory networks. Theoretically, her work links the literature on emotions with work on the body and its senses and methodologically demonstrates that link. She powerfully argues that our emotions and senses are at the core of our relational awareness, and that smells in particular, strongly connect us to others and our environment. For Ramos, the relational perspective enables a politics of resistance against privatised and commodified encroachments on emotional and sensory experience. By joining together, we can better control what and who touches us.
Collectively the network can also decide on and nourish intellectual work that touches us. The Lesham and Sela-Sheffy article and the article by Gödze Cöbek discussed below were both runners-up in the award for the best paper at the Research Network’s 2020 mid-term (won by Yvonne Wechuli for her paper ‘Between cripping and reclaiming: epistemological implications of Disability Studies’ feeling strategies’, published in Emotions and Society 4(2)). They remind us of the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the mid-terms held online gave no opportunity for drinking coffee or beer together while chewing over the papers presented. It was during COVID-19 that the board of the RN11 network came up with the idea of the best paper award to recognise and support members. The network had some money left due to the conference being online and decided together with the editors of Emotions and Society to use it as a prize for the winner. The winner and the runners-up were mentored, by the journal editors and members of the RN11 board, to turn the paper into an article. This helped bring together senior and junior RN11 members and made good use of virtual meetings at a time when it was not possible to provide support and encouragement by going for a beer or having lunch together. We leave readers to judge the resulting articles, which both focus on the relational aspects of emotions. Happily, the journal’s publisher, Bristol University Press, has subsequently offered continued support in funding the prize (300 euros) so nominating junior scholars for the best paper award will be a recurring event at future RN11 conferences. We share the papers by the 2020 runners-up here.
Rotem Leshem and Rakefet Sela-Sheffy (2023) explore how relations with others are affected in ways that can be difficult to control, which transforms them over time. They examine these changes in the case of different generations of Ashkenazi (European Jewish) immigrants in Israel and their shifting identification in relation to Mizrahi (Middle-Eastern or African Jewish) communities and to the Israeli ruling class. Second-generation Ashkenazim reject the implicit racism of their immigrant parents and blur boundaries between themselves and Mizrahim. They befriend and marry across those ethnic boundaries. However, middle-class elitism overtakes racist affect in propelling Ashkenazi social mobility. The Ashkenazim inherit feelings of class superiority but are also disoriented by ethnoclass tensions which they strive to navigate via therapeutic identity work. As well as providing a nuanced understanding of shifting intersections between ethnic and class divisions in Israel, this article provides new perspectives on affect. Affect is not an unconscious driver but something mobilised within the doing of identity. This research reveals how the management of affect is central to constructing dominant White identities.
The attention to affect takes a different turn in the next article by Gödze Cöbek (2023), about ‘What affect proposes: swiping as a bodily practice’. Cöbek goes beyond an analysis of the structural factors influencing mate selection to examine the part that affect plays in choosing partners through the bodily practice of swiping on Tinder or OK Cupid. Swiping decisions are guided by the way the technology is designed, but also by moods and the feelings created as individuals encounter users’ profiles. By focusing on affect, the article explores sensory and emotional processes in the moment. Cöbek draws on debates about affect to establish that affect does not escape the structural, but helps explain bodily responses to the environment, to atmospheres and the non-human. The bodily practices of swiping are shaped by technological factors, but also by the bodily impressions of the match-seekers in response to user profiles. Swipers say their moods are important in their decisions and this may explain seeming contradictions in their mate selections. They are also affected by the pictures and text in profiles; what they feel informs how they swipe. This is an account of online dating that goes well beyond gamification explanations to give a much more nuanced account of the embodied affective practices of dating via apps.
While emotional connections may not always require embodied co-presence (Holmes, 2014), the management of emotions under close proximity within intimate relationships has its challenges. On the one hand, many practical acts of emotional care seem to rely on being together. On the other hand, too much proximity can cause conflict or put pressure on emotional bonds. Holmes and Thomson’s (2023) study of emotional reflexivity in Scottish working-class households during the COVID-19 lockdowns shows household members caring for each other emotionally in a range of ways, including giving each other space as well as tidying or making dinner. Instead of characterising working-class emotional life in terms of a lack of emotional capital that reinforces inequalities (Skeggs, 1997; Reay, 2004), this study considers forms of emotional reflexivity that are collaborative and often mutually enriching. In less-than-ideal circumstances, and in relation to material conditions such as sharing small houses or flats, people feel their way together. There are normative expectations of women as emotional experts, and intimate relationships within households as sites of support that make the burden of these collaborative efforts at emotion work fall unevenly. However, household members are creative in balancing togetherness and distance to provide emotional support.
At a time when hundreds of thousands of people have been mobilised to protest against the actions of Israel’s recently elected far-right government (Wright, 2023), Liv Halperin’s (2023) article shifts our focus towards the role of emotions in social movements. Specifically, her research examines the role of hope for Jewish and Arab-Palestinian peace activists within a context of protracted conflict. Halperin argues that in the absence of a peace process with the Palestinians a context of despair has arisen, particularly among the Israeli left. Within this context of despair, hope has in different ways become an end in itself for the Israeli activists Halperin spoke to. Feelings of hope are not deemed sufficient in themselves, but understood as ‘an objective that can happen while waiting for peace and one that “I” – an ordinary person – can contribute to’. For some peace activists, feeling hope affirmed collective identities as it connected them with the past and the dreams of previous generations; a past narrated as one in which peace was imminent. Hope also allowed activists to link the present to the future. In imagining positive change hope served as ‘fuel’ for activists to keep going, while also offering some protection against the context of despair and corrosive emotions of resignation and cynicism. Moreover, for some activists, holding out hope for peace became a key part of their spiritual journey, and their activism and hope with others created community and belonging. Halperin’s work demonstrates the relational and collective dimensions of feeling hope, an emotion important for mobilising and sustaining the engagement of activists, but which also seems to deliver ends in itself. The collective emotional dividends of hope may be as important as ever for Israeli activists (and others) as they face a new far-right government.
We are reminded by all the articles in this issue that our emotions, and especially our emotional memories, are evoked, provoked and stoked by a range of sensory experiences in the presence of other people and things. As Ramos beautifully illustrates, co-presence can bring a range of emotions and relies on a variety of senses beyond seeing and hearing. In-person co-presence is not inevitably enriching, but as the pandemic has made us especially aware, it can bring satisfactions that being apart or online interactions lack (Collins, 2020). The emotional affordances of shared togetherness may seem obvious but there is more to be said about what we feel when with our fellow humans, and indeed when with other animals or with non-human entities like technological devices or material objects like cigarettes (see, for example, Kolehmainen et al, 2022) or the rooms we inhabit (see Holmes and Thomson, 2023). Sharing space with others is one way to provide emotional succour. ‘Being there’, according to Julie Brownlie (2011: 463), ‘refers to the often taken for granted, supportive presence that we are for others and others for us’. Contrary to most literature, which focuses on therapeutic culture and the centrality it gives to talking, Brownlie suggests that ‘being there’ is perhaps the most important way in which emotional support is offered. Being together with others certainly is an emotional experience. But Brownlie is not talking about the kind of ‘collective effervescence’ Durkheim (1915) analyses, nor the heightened ‘collective emotions’ (von Scheve and Salmela, 2014) often written about. She writes about quieter forms of emotional sharing, some that depend on shared histories and memories of past feelings; for instance, histories of small acts of kindness (Brownlie and Anderson, 2017). These non-verbal forms of emotional support can be crucial in helping people to get by, especially in difficult times.
At our conference in Hamburg, we noticed that at night the streets and the campus were puzzlingly dark; only torches or bicycle lights pushed back the gloom. The realisation dawns that this is Germany responding to the need to save energy, dependent as they are on Russia for heat and light. This blackout connects to the latest grudge played out at the international level: Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
As we prepared to return from the conference to the large and small troubles of life, we also reflected that the keynotes and other papers are appearing in volume 5 of the journal Emotions and Society. In March 2023 it was the journal’s fifth birthday. The journal’s long ten-year gestation (see Holmes et al, 2019) perhaps makes us feel particularly happy to have got to this point. So, someone write us an article about happy birthdays.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.
Brownlie, J. (2011) ‘Being there’: multidimensionality, reflexivity and the study of emotional lives, The British Journal of Sociology, 62(3): 462–81, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2011.01374.x.
Brownlie, J. and Anderson, S. (2017) Thinking sociologically about kindness: puncturing the blasé in the ordinary city, Sociology, 51(6): 1222–38. doi: 10.1177/0038038516661266
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Collins, R. (2020) Social distancing as a critical test of the micro-sociology of solidarity, American Journal of Cultural Sociology, 8(3): 477–97, doi: 10.1057/s41290-020-00120-z.
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