Felt thinking and the social. Commentary of John ... - SAGE Journals

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the important construct of 'felt thinking' pro- vide a welcome fusion that sidesteps previous dualisms and offers a fresh reconceptualization of belief. Particularly ...



HPQ17710.1177/1359105312448863FalmagneJournal of Health Psychology


Leaving dualisms behind: Felt thinking and the social. Commentary of John Cromby, ‘Beyond belief’

Journal of Health Psychology 17(7) 962­–964 © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1359105312448863 hpq.sagepub.com

Rachel Joffe Falmagne1

Abstract From a metatheoretical critical perspective wary of theoretical dualisms, this commentary endorses Cromby’s integrative proposal on the fusion of thought and affect. The proposal is discussed in relation to the current ‘turn to affect’ in the social sciences and to recent work in feminist theory. Specific arguments on the relation of cognition and discourse are appraised critically.

Keywords Dualisms, affect, thought, feminism, discourse

Rationalism has left a profound imprint on psychology, where the radical ontological separation of thinking and emotion that is central to rationalist philosophy has been reified and institutionalized into separate areas of research and theorizing. Within philosophy itself, rationalism has been the conceptual infrastructure of several disciplinary areas, including epistemology and philosophy of mind. The philosophical conception of belief in particular (e.g. Harman, 1986) is steeped in rationalist assumptions. In that historical landscape, Cromby’s insightful construal of belief as a structure of socialized feelings and his introduction of the important construct of ‘felt thinking’ provide a welcome fusion that sidesteps previous dualisms and offers a fresh reconceptualization of belief. Particularly compelling and useful in its implications is his characterization of belief as ‘a particular form of felt thinking, characterized by durability and personal significance’, as well as his emphasis on the embodied nature of belief and feeling and on its alignment with social and cultural norms.

Cromby’s proposal can be situated within the recent ‘turn to affect’ in the social sciences, a turn reflected in a burgeoning literature (e.g. Brennan, 2004; Clough, 2007; Greco and Stenner, 2008), and in renewed interest in Silvan Tomkins’ theory, which stresses the dynamic interconnections between thought and affect (Demos, 1995; McIlwain, 2007). From a theoretical angle different from both that literature and Cromby’s own article, the dualistic opposition between thought and emotion upheld by rationalism has long been critiqued on metatheoretical and on substantive grounds by feminist theorists and philosophers (e.g. Alcoff and Potter, 1993; Tuana and Morgen, 2001), some of whom have emphasized how they are indissolubly enmeshed (e.g. Jaggar, 1996). 1Clark

University, USA

Corresponding author: Rachel Joffe Falmagne, Psychology Department, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, Massachusetts, 01610, USA. Email: [email protected]

Falmagne Along related lines, I have recently argued that a person’s intellectual style and mode of thought are best understood as being rooted in the person’s affective investments and his/her emotional dynamics, along within the larger processes of social constitution, both material and discursive, that have been formative. In other words, while the modes of thinking of social agents are constituted in and through their social location and cultural history and through their agentive negotiation of circulating discourses of knowledge, their biographical affective and intellectual lives are closely intertwined, and people’s affective economy modulates core aspects of their modes of thought, tendencies that develop to be habitual and distinctive. (Falmagne, 2011: 129)

Despite some differences in scope and specific assumptions, Cromby’s account and this proposal converge in their shared commitment to synthesize the affective, cognitive and social constituents of thought into an integrative reformulation. Indeed, they might be seen as potentially complementary in some ways. Cromby’s account of belief, rather than implicating the person’s overall affective economy and the characteristic aspects of her/his style of engagement with different complex intellectual issues, centers on feelings as embodied states and as experiences of those states and focuses on the meaning or the substantive content of beliefs. The emphasis of the article on the social constituents of beliefs is central but it bears on the content and meaning of specific beliefs. It is intriguing to consider speculatively how those felt beliefs might be related to the person’s overall intellectual style in its affective biographical and social constitution. If I have one qualm about Cromby’s rich discussion, it has to do with his textual allegiance to some (in my view questionable) aspects of discursive psychology. As he notes, for ‘DP’ (the acronym introduced by proponents of discursive psychology to rhetorically mark it as a self-contained approach), beliefs are claimed not to be cognitive entities held by individuals but are instead to be considered exclusively as discursive rhetorical moves deployed in conversation. Mental states and processes are rejected as proper objects of theoretical discourse. I

963 believe that this dualistic polarization is unnecessary and unproductive, that essential insights are lost in the schism that it creates, and that some (adequately reconstructed) notion of mental life is a theoretical necessity, selectively integrated with a recognition of the discursive processes that ongoingly contribute to it, a notion that honors the inherent inseparability of the psychological and the social emphasized by discourse-theoretic approaches while positing a (reconceived) ‘mental space’ as the site of thought processes on a given moment (Falmagne, 2009). To clarify, the issue is not that ‘DP’ moves the analytic focus from individual cognitive processes to situated interaction, an analytic focus legitimate in its own right, but rather that its justification relies on an unnecessary exclusionary discarding (explicit or implied) of any kind of theoretical reference to internal states or internal processes. Admittedly, Cromby himself notes the limitations of a purely discursive account, of course, when he lucidly stresses the qualities of endurance of beliefs as well as their affective, felt dimensions – a welcome emphasis that is elaborated throughout the article. Yet, he affirms ‘the advantages of DP’, even as he recognizes its limitations. Why this lingering textual allegiance? That said, the actual substance of Cromby’s discussion of belief in fact shows a productive integration of discursive and (for lack of a better word) cognitive/affective/embodied elements: while the source of beliefs may reside in part in the person’s discursive engagements and while their persistence might be due in part to the fact that they are frequently rehearsed discursively, they come to include a structure of feeling and an embodied existence that supersedes discourse. This account gives discursive processes a constitutive function and at the same times highlights the ontologically distinct nature of the resulting internal, felt belief, a welcome integration of complementary elements. The reference to Vygotsky’s discussion of language and thought and to his notion of the social origins of inner speech in this context is interesting and appears fruitful. Yet it seems to me to lead to some theoretical inconsistencies when juxtaposed with discursive accounts. Vygotsky brilliantly characterizes verbal thought as an ‘alloy’, an emerging entity, the transformational product

964 of language and thought into a novel, ontologically and functionally distinct process. This description seems consonant with Cromby’s account of belief as embodied, felt thinking derived in part from social exchanges. It is, however fundamentally different from discursive accounts in its stress on an inner psychological life. As well, in discussing Vygotsky’s ideas, Cromby states that ‘belief has the form of fragments of and positions within conversations’, a statement deriving from a discursive psychology account with its emphasis on the local, an emphasis distinct from Vygotsky’s notion of social speech. The further suggestion that inner speech gets transformed into structures of feeling has a mysterious quality: what kind of process underlies this radical transformation? The attempt to integrate Vygotsky’s account and discursive insights is intriguing and potentially fruitful, but it is not entirely convincing as stated. I am also puzzled by what seems to be an inconsistency between Cromby’s initial discussion of Johnson’s (2007) account and his later remarks. While the article initially stresses Johnson’s proposal that feelings such as connection, disjunction, valence, subtly ‘organize and direct our thinking’ (as in the urge to say ‘but’ rather than ‘and’ in response to a claim), a view presumably congruent with the notion of embodied, felt thinking, Cromby later states: ‘a feeling of “but” is a transmuted version of a prior discursive position, a structure of socialized feeling that we previously knew through discourse and narrative’, a statement which reverses the directionality in the processual relation between discourse and feeling and which suggests that feeling is, instead, derived from prior discursive positions. Both Cromby’s treatment of Johnson and his discussion of Vygotsky seem perhaps to reflect ambivalence about the specific relative contributions of discourse and feeling to the constitution of beliefs. Leaving aside those open questions, however, this is a thought provoking and rich discussion of belief that productively contributes to the growing emphasis on embodiment in the social sciences and to the recognition of the bodily nature of thought, affect, and subjectivity. The notion of

Journal of Health Psychology 17(7) ‘felt thinking’ is, again, important as a productive fusion, and the focus on belief as an instantiation of that notion is particularly well suited because of the clear affective charge of beliefs. And the emphasis on the social constituents of beliefs, whether through local discursive exchanges or through Vygotskian processes of social speech or through other processes of social constitution is welcome and contributes to the growing recognition in psychology of the societal and cultural matrix of human functioning. Competing Interests None declared.

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