Probing emotions within a sociological identity perspective. Getting at both narratives and everyday life experiences with the help of episodic interviews
Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences University of Bremen Bremen, Germany
Sociological identity theory assumes that emotional experiences can only adequately be understood when taking into account both subjects´ identity "standards" (e.g. conceived as role expectations) and their situational perceptions. This means that situational feelings, e.g. anger, as well as enduring emotional states, e.g. depression or wellbeing, arise as a specific congruence or incongruence between a person´s more general standards and her/his situational perceptions or self-perceptions.
Building on this, I argue, we need to conceptualise identity and the occurrence of emotions both at the level of self-reflexive narratives on the one hand and the level of concrete, situational experiences on the other. Qualitative empirical sociological research, however, has thus far mostly concentrated on exploring either the former or the latter. I hold, synthesising the two different research focuses will yield a more complete picture of emotional processes. At the methodical level, the challenge is then to look at narratives as well as concrete episodes of experienced everyday life and at their interrelations.
I briefly unfold the sociological identity framework in which I locate the emergence of emotions. In the main part of the paper, I show in what ways the so called "episodic interview", as proposed by Uwe Flick, is suited for countering the above-mentioned challenge. Flick explicitly distinguishes between two sorts of knowledge that is narrative and episodic knowledge. These are collected and interpreted as two different types of data within the rationale of the episodic interview. This actually represents an effective way of triangulating the data and thus increasing their validity. Finally, I will give concrete research examples from an ongoing project on well-being in unemployment.
With this paper, I hope to promote a more inclusive understanding of emotions in empirical sociological studies and to direct attention at a sound method whose value for investigating emotions has barely been acknowledged yet.