Eilert Sundt lecture 2002

Emotions and Politics

Professor Thomas Scheff,
University of California at Santa Barbara,

Thursday 24. October, 15.15 - 17.00,
Auditorium 1, Eilert Sundts house

The most crucial problem facing the human race, it seems, is to find ways to avoid protracted, destructive conflict between large groups. In this lecture, the offer of an approach to the problem will be a theory of emotional/relational causation. The theory proposes that destructive conflict always has a component of deeply hidden shame and alienation. This component is shared by leaders and followers. It creates an emotional/relational dynamic between them that leads to irrational violence toward other groups. As an example, I consider Hitler's appeal to the German nation and some parallels in current US politics. The emotional/relational world is virtually invisible in modern societies. A first step toward decreasing conflict could be educating adults and children so that they have the knowledge and skill needed to navigate the emotional/relational world. This type of education could take the form of conflict resolution classes for high school students, and marital/parenting training for young adults.

Thomas Scheff (b. 1929) is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Originally a physicist, he got his Ph. D in Sociology at UC Berkeley, and an honorary Ph. D. from Karlstad University. He has taught and consulted at many universities in the US, Europe, and Australia. He is the author of Being Mentally Ill, Microsociology, Bloody Revenge and other books, and many articles. His principle interests at present are the causes of destructive conflict, and integration of the social sciences. He believes that the current division between the social sciences into separate fiefdoms is a disaster. His most recent book, Emotions, the Social Bond and Human Reality (1997), is an approach to integrating the social sciences, particularly sociology and psychology, and for ending separation from the humanities as well. As in the physical sciences, major advances and practical application both depend increasingly on integration between disciplines.