The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions – REDDY (CSS)

REDDY, William M. The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 380p. Resenha de: LEE-SINDEN, Jane. Canadian Social Studies, v.39, n.2, p., 2005.

The Navigation of Feeling is a valuable contribution to emotion literature. There are few books that provide a significant examination of relevant and recent research on emotion. The first two chapters are devoted to a critical review of the research including a conceptual analysis from the lenses of cognitive psychology and anthropology. A comparison of emotion theories is presented to gauge both the extent of convergence that is going on in these two fields, as well as the extent of conceptual blockage that has developed as new research findings have come up (p. xiii). Further, there is an extensive list of sources at the end of the book that will prove useful to students studying emotion research.

The book is divided into Parts I and II with a total of eight chapters. In chapter one, the author addresses ongoing debates regarding emotions, such as whether or not emotional experiences are solely biologically based and thus universal. For instance, Reddy explains that efforts to uncover the hidden order among emotion words in various languages have yielded very different results because it is difficult to know how to distinguish one emotion term from another in a given language; there is no yardstick for emotion terms (p. 5). Moreover, Western specialists who study emotion cannot agree on what the term emotion means. Reddy pulls from the work of Isen and Diamond to explain their views on how emotions operate like overlearned cognitive habits that may be learned, altered, or unlearned by conscious decision. It is suggested that emotions are involuntary in the short run in the same sense that such cognitive habits are, but may similarly be learned and unlearned over a longer time frame.

In chapter two the debate continues with a view from anthropology. Among anthropologists, there is a prevalent tendency to regard emotions as culturally constructed. This idea has led to recent persuasive ethnographic accounts of worldwide emotional variation, providing grounds for a political critique of the Western thought that identifies emotions as biological and feminine. Further, Reddy pulls from psychological research that supports the constructionist approach to emotions as deeply influenced by social interaction (p. 34), which supports that idea that emotions may be learned and no different from other cognitive contents.

In chapter three the author attempts to bridge the gap between anthropology and psychology by examining emotional expression as a type of speech act. Reddy considers emotional expressions as utterances aimed at briefly characterizing the current state of activated thought material that exceeds the current capacity of attention. Such expression, by analogy with speech acts, can be said to have descriptive appearance (p. 100), rational intent (p. 100), and self exploring and self-altering effects (p. 101). He also describes forms of expressions, such as: first person past tense emotions, first person long term emotion claims, emotional expressive gestures, facial expressions, word choices, and intonations, other claims about states of the speaker, and second and third person emotion claims, all of which he characterizes as emotives (p. 103).

In chapter four Reddy explains how the theory presented in chapter three offers a new way of understanding what he calls emotional regimes and their relation to emotional experience and liberty (p. 113). Chapters five through eight are devoted to historical examination, concluding with an attempt at pulling together historical significance for our understanding of present emotion research.

I found significant value in the chapters discussing present views of thought on emotions. Reddy’s comparison of emotional expression to a speech act and the idea of emotives are insightful additions to the understanding of emotion. I found the later chapters less useful. As a doctoral student new to the field of emotion, chapters five through eight are mundane and heavy historically. In addition, although I finished the book with a better understanding regarding the present and past theories of emotion, the conclusion left me in a similar place where I started, namely that western specialists who study emotion cannot even agree on what the term emotion means (p. 3). Nevertheless, the book provides a thorough and well-packaged examination of emotion.

The Navigation of Feeling would be useful to those who have previous understanding or background for the purpose of studying emotion or who wish to ponder on new ideas. In relation to students, this book is a good compliment to Jenkins and Oakley’s (1996) Understanding Emotion and Boler’s (1999) Feeling Power. Jenkins and Oakley’s conceptual analysis of emotion touches on many of the ideas that Reddy addresses, however Understanding Emotion, which looks at emotion from a sociological perspective, is presented with consideration to students who have no previous experience with emotion literature.


Boler, M. (1999). Feeling power: Emotions and education. New York: Routledge.

Oatley, K. Jenkin, J.M. (1996). Understanding emotion. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Science.

Jane Lee-Sinden – Faculty of Education. University of Western Ontario. London, Ontario.

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