What makes us modern(s)? The place of emotions in European societies of the past and the present
Institute for Science and Technology Studies University of Bielefeld Bielefeld, Germany
Visions and concepts of a good society always had a prominent place in European thought. From the Enlightenment onwards, they were a favourite topic for social theorists, many of which firmly believed in the power of (scientific) reason to create and further a good society. This belief in the civilizing force of reason and rationality is still an essential part of most contemporary definitions of modern society, which usually consider the rational organisation of social life and a disenchanted, scientific world view as one of its constitutive features. However, there has always been a counterweight to the modernist emphasis on rationality - the vision of a society that is not (solely) founded on utilitarian motives and rational order, but connected by a collective effervescence, and driven by emotional motives and expressive values. From 18th century romanticism to the hippie movement at the end of the 20th century, this quest for an emotional renewal of society has been an integral part of modern culture and modern thought.
Interestingly enough, we are currently experiencing another renaissance of emotionality: Nowadays, emotions and feelings are increasingly recognized as valuable personal resources for success both in private and professional life, and in addition to that, emotions are also moving into the centre of scientific attention - especially within those disciplines that originally thought that feelings shouldn´t matter to them (e.q., computer, neuro, or cognitive science).
Is this surprising renaissance of emotionality indicative of an emotional reenchantment of our society - or are we witnessing just another modernist push for rational order, i.e. an attempt to scientifically rationalise the emotions and the way we handle them?
With this question in mind, my presentation will discuss the return of emotions in science and society. I´ll begin with a historical overview of the contested role (and the changing fortunes) of emotions in the course of modernisation and their subsequent marginalisation as "non-rational" and "non-modern", and then take a closer look at the current emotional turn in the sciences and its implications for understanding, handling and using emotions in today´s late (or post) modern society.