Empathy rituals: Small conversations about emotional distress on Twitter

Julie Brownlie, Frances Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

There is growing research interest in the sharing of emotions through social media. Usually centred on ‘newsworthy’ events and collective ‘flows’ of emotion, this work is often computationally driven. This article presents an interaction-led analysis of small data from Twitter to illustrate how this kind of intensive focus can ‘thicken’ claims about emotions, and particularly empathy. Drawing on Goffman’s work on ritual, we introduce and then apply the idea of ‘empathy rituals’ to exchanges about emotional distress on Twitter, a platform primarily researched using big data approaches. While the potential of Goffman’s work has been explored in some depth in relation to digital performances, its emotional dimension has been less fully examined. Through a focus on Twitter conversations, we show how reading small data can inform computational social science claims about emotions and add to sociological understanding of emotion in (digital) publics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-122
Number of pages19
JournalSociology
Volume53
Issue number1
Early online date22 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

Keywords

  • emotions
  • Goffman
  • rituals
  • Twitter

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