It was not until the 1970s that sociologists undertook the systematic study of emotions (Heise, 1979; Hochschild, 1975, 1979, 1983; Kemper, 1978a, 1978b; Scheff, 1979; Shott, 1979). In hindsight, this late date is remarkable in light of the fact that emotions pervade virtually every aspect of human experience and all social relations. How could sociologists have turned a blind eye to emotions? Not all sociologists did, of course, but with only a few exceptions, sociologists had studied just about every aspect of human behavior and somehow given comparatively little attention to the dynamics of emotions.
Moreover, with just a moment's thought, it immediately becomes evident that emotions are the “glue” binding people together and generating commitments to large-scale social and cultural structures; in fact, emotions are what make social structures and systems of cultural symbols viable. Conversely, emotions are also what can drive people apart and push them to tear down social structures and to challenge cultural traditions. Thus, experience, behavior, interaction, and organization are connected to the mobilization and expression of emotions. Indeed, one of the unique features of humans is their reliance on emotions to form social bonds and build complex sociocultural structures.
Why sociologists underemphasized the study of emotions for many years is less interesting than how sociologists have theorized about emotions over the last three decades. Although sociologists were late to recognize the importance of the topic, they have made up for lost time (Thoits, 1989).