In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Emotions

  • Introduction
  • Classic Works
  • Edited Volumes and Textbooks
  • Data Sources
  • Field Reviews
  • Journals
  • Positivist versus Interactionist Approaches: The Early Years
  • Classifications and Measurement
  • Methods for Studying Emotion
  • Social Structure
  • Socialization
  • Deviance
  • Workplace
  • Family
  • At Work and at Home
  • Mental Health
  • Equity and Justice
  • Status in Groups
  • Exchange
  • Social Movements
  • Race
  • Intersectionality

Sociology Emotions
Kathryn J. Lively
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0018


The sociology of emotion is a relatively new field. Developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the sociology of emotion draws attention to the ways in which emotions—phenomena that have historically been viewed as inherently personal—are socially patterned. Although emotions are typically seen as micro-events or constructs, sociologists routinely illustrate the degree to which emotions are not only related to one’s position on the social structure, but also how emotions, particularly through their management and their expression, serve to reproduce the society in which individuals are embedded. Thus, the study of emotions has become crucial in explaining the reciprocal relationship between individual agency and social structure. Like most burgeoning subfields, the sociology of emotion has been long on theory and somewhat short on empirical studies. However, a veritable explosion of empirical studies has been reported since around 1990, based on such diverse methodologies as in-depth interviews, ethnography, surveys, experiments, and even computer simulations. Moreover, sociologists throughout the discipline, ranging from those studying sociobiology to those studying social movements, have acknowledged the importance of studying emotions. Although the sociology of emotion has grown to include most, if not all, of the areas of inquiry traditionally associated with social psychology (including, but certainly not limited to exchange, trust, and equity, among others), its most highly developed subject matter continues to be that pertaining to emotion management, emotional labor, and the sociology of work.

Classic Works

Most sociologists agree that emotions act as a signal function. In other words, emotions, like our other senses, tell us how we are faring in a particular social interaction. Whether or not sociologists assume that emotions are socially hard-wired (Darwin 1955) or socially constructed (Cooley 1964, Goffman 1959, Hochschild 1983), there is considerable agreement that our emotional experience comprises physiology, cognition (or the meaning we make of a particular situation; James and Lange 1922, Mead 1934), display (Goffman 1959), and the label (James and Lange 1922) we give it. The selections in this section address each of these four factors of the emotional experience, with the exception of the appendix by Hochschild 1983, which provides an elementary summary of these readings as they pertain to her understanding of emotion. Mead 1934 and Cooley’s work, in particular, set the stage for the discussion of role-taking emotions (see Shott 1979 under Positivist versus Interactionist Approaches: The Early Years) and theories of emotional Deviance. Goffman’s later work (Goffman 1967) inspired many of the structural theories of emotions, particularly those of Randall Collins (see Social Structure).

  • Cooley, Charles H. 1964. Human nature and the social order. New York: Schocken.

    This work remains a pioneer sociological treatise on American culture as well as a cornerstone of the social constructionist approach to emotion. By understanding the individual not as the product of society but as its mirror image, Cooley concludes that the social order cannot be imposed from outside human nature but that it arises from the self. Originally published in 1902; reprinted in 2006 (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction).

  • Darwin, Charles. 1955. The expression of emotions in man and animals. New York: Philosophical Library.

    Considered by many to be Darwin’s greatest work, this magnum opus on how humans and animals display such emotions as fear, anger, disdain, and pleasure has in most respects been sustained by later scientific research. Darwin’s notion that emotion is a signal function has become a cornerstone of sociological thought on emotion. Reprinted 1979 (New York: St. Martin’s).

  • Goffman, Erving. 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

    In his best-known work, Goffman provides a study of human behavior in social situations and the way we appear to others that remains unsurpassed to this day. Although Goffman did not address emotion per se, scholars studying management and labor have used many of his ideas. Reprinted, London: Penguin, 2007.

  • Goffman, Erving. 1967. Interaction ritual. New York: Doubleday Anchor.

    Goffman provides the foundation for much of the later sociological scholarship on ritual interaction, emotional energy, and the role of emotion (as well as other micro-interactions) in perpetuating social stratification (see works by Collins in Social Structure). Reprinted in 1982 (New York: Pantheon).

  • Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 1983. The managed heart: The commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    In Appendix B Hochschild provides a yeoman’s review of the classic theoretical traditions upon which the current sociological view of emotion was based. Although by no means complete, this chapter is an excellent starting point for students and emotion scholars alike.

  • James, William, and Carl G. Lange. 1922. The emotions. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

    In this classic, James and Lange argue that emotions are feelings which come about as a result of physiological changes, rather than being their cause. This theory has been challenged in recent decades but remains important in terms of the evolution of sociological thought on the nature of emotion. Reprinted in 1967 (New York: Hafner).

  • Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, self and society. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This manuscript contains the heart of Mead’s position on the relationship between the individual and society. Mead’s ideas were extremely influential to symbolic interaction—that is, our ability to take the role of the other—and underlies a good deal of the current sociological work on emotion, including emotional socialization, emotion management, emotional labor, and emotional deviance. Reprinted 2000.

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