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Shifting from a constructivist to an experiential approach to the anthropology of self and emotion

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This paper investigates the limits of the constructivist approach to the study of self and emotion in anthropology and outlines a viable alternative to this perspective, namely an experiential approach. The roots of the experiential and constructivist approaches to self and emotion in anthropology are traced to the work of William James and George Herbert Mead respectively. The limitations of the constructivist perspective are explored through a discussion of James's radical empirical doctrine, Anthony P. Cohen's work on creative self-consciousness, and Arlie Hochschild's writings on ‘emotional discrepancy'. A discussion of transpersonal aspects of emotional experience, altered states of consciousness and the experience of ‘pure consciousness’ is used to suggest some further limits of this approach. Finally, connections between this work and some of James’ later writings on self and mystical experience are drawn and the implications of this work for the study of self and emotion are explored.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, UCLA, 3207 Hershey Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553, USA.

Publication date: 2000-03-01

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