Sociology Faculty Publications and Presentations

Emotions and Affect as Source, Outcome and Resistance to Inequality

Document Type


Publication Date



While sociologists usually focus on the material aspects of inequality, its emotional outcomes are one of the reasons we care about it. People who occupy the lower positions in unequal social structures experience negative, impotent, and unengaged feelings that depress their quality of life. This chapter explores how affective meanings, transmitted by cultural systems and individual interactional experiences, help to create and re-create patterns of inequality. We first explore how affective meanings translate cultural sentiments into local interactions, creating inequality as it is experienced in everyday life. Self-identities and emotional responses of the stigmatized often reinforce these cultural responses, leading the disadvantaged to self-destructive responses. After discussing how affect and emotion create inequality, we discuss the related topic of how people experience structural emotions as a result of occupying a disadvantaged social position. We document the stress of not being able to verify valued identities or control life circumstances. Finally, we discuss the ways in which emotions can motivate people to resist inequality, by forming coalitions through affective commitments, by recognizing solidarity with other like-minded people in social movements, and by forming subcultures where affective meanings can generate positive structural emotions.


© 2014 Springer Sciences + Business Media Dordrecht

Publication Title

Handbook of the Social Psychology of Inequality