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Out now: Affective meanings and social relations: identities and positions in the social space

Ambrasat, Jens; von Scheve, Christian (2021)

News from Jan 27, 2022

published in: Emotions and Society, vol XX, no XX, 1–20, DOI. Open Access.


Ever since Georg Simmel’s seminal works, social relations have been a central building block of sociological theory. In relational sociology, social identities are an essential concept and supposed to emerge in close interaction with other identities, discourses and objects. To assess this kind of relationality, existing research capitalises on patterns of meaning making that are constitutive for identities. These patterns are often understood as forms of declarative knowledge and are reconstructed, using qualitative methods, from denotative meanings as they surface: for example, in stories and narratives. We argue that this approach to some extent privileges explicit and conceptual knowledge over tacit and non-conceptual forms of knowledge. We suggest that affect is a concept that can adequately account for such implicit and bodily meanings, even when measured on the level of linguistic concepts. We draw on affect control theory (ACT) and related methods to investigate the affective meanings of concepts (lexemes) denoting identities in a large survey. We demonstrate that even though these meanings are widely shared across respondents, they nevertheless show systematic variation reflecting respondents’ positions within the social space and the typical interaction experiences associated with their identities. In line with ACT, we show, first, that the affective relations between exemplary identities mirror their prototypical, culturally circumscribed and institutionalised relations (for example, between role identities). Second, we show that there are systematic differences in these affective relations across gender, occupational status and regional culture, which we interpret as reflecting respondents’ subjective positioning and experience vis-à-vis a shared cultural reality.

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