Canadian Journal of Sociology Online September-October 2000

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Jack Katz
How Emotions Work.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. 407 pp. $CDN 40.50, $US 27.50 cloth (0-226-42599-1)

I have an confession to make. As confessions go it is a small one, but here it is. I laughed while reading this book, and in all honesty it has been a while since sociology has offered up a read that is this much of a pleasure. I will resist imposing my sense of humour on the reader and move directly to the point of my admission. With his prose, his presentation, his argument, Katz invites those who take this work seriously to give themselves over to the emotional experience of the text. By choosing to write in a style which occasionally replaces the precession of the social sciences with the passion of the humanities, Katz invites the reader into this argument.

How Emotions Work is an ambitious and careful text. While the processual question the author selects for his title is fundamental to the broad interactionist project within the sociology of emotion, the author’s theoretical work is closely grounded within the world of everyday life. Throughout this book Katz engages the methodological problems of making emotionality available to the theorist - as lived experience and as an analytical topic. The creativity and ingenuity demonstrated here is striking.

Anger is examined through interviews where respondents recount episodes of “being pissed off” while driving in Los Angeles. Video tape is used as the author takes us inside a fun house to engage laughter of parents and their children. We also encounter a detailed video record of crying associated with the confession of a murder suspect during police interrogation, and video images of girl’s little league baseball provide a part of the substantive resources employed in an examination of shame. Katz integrates a variety of data collection techniques throughout the text, demonstrates how multiple research settings allow the theorist to attend more fully to generic social processes, and attempts to include the perspectives and interactions of the various parties involved in the various emotion encounters. For those who teach qualitative methodology, the usefulness of this volume in the classroom should not be overlooked.

How Emotions Work, however, is an important book for the contributions it makes to theorizing within interpretive sociology. Combing aspects of hermeneutic (Heidegger), phenomenological (Merleau-Ponty) and interactionist (Mead; Schutz) thought (a project which is not without internal tension), we find a social psychology offered up here which raises a series of important theoretical questions. I will identify but three:

• Is the prism a more useful metaphor in the conceptualization of the “self” than our well worn analogy of the looking glass and what are the implication of such a reorientation?

• How does an attentiveness to the dialectical qualities of emotional experience re-frame our analysis? For example in examining the multiformity of laughter Katz suggests that, “at times the comic virtually rapes the audience, making them tremble in accordance with his or her whim, even against the manifestly resisting will” (no, stop, I can’t take it). (333).

• How is an attentiveness to the relational qualities of human group life fundamental to a fully sociological study of emotion?

Katz argues that it is “possible to study rigorously how people construct their understandings of emotional behavior in natural settings.” (3) This the text models throughout. The seven chapters in this book combine in a study of anger, laughter, shame, and crying. The result is a social psychology which attends to emotion as an accomplished, expressive, and created aspect of social life. This is an important book for all theorists of the self.

Scott Grills
Brandon University
September 2000
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