chapter  6
16 Pages


Risk and authentic emotion
ByStephen Lyng

I argue in this chapter that the valorisation of excitement is a distinctly modern phenomenon. My analysis is informed by a sociological perspective on human emotions that focuses on the broader system of social structures and relations that shape emotional experience. More specifically, I draw on the most well-known social-historical theory of excitement – Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning’s (1986) analysis of sport and leisure as important dimensions of the ‘civilizing process’. After reviewing recent efforts to apply Elias and Dunning’s theory of excitement to certain sporting activities, I propose a way to broaden the theory by directing attention to the role of risk and uncertainty in generating excitement among an expanding population of people in contemporary Western society. This modification of the theory is achieved by incorporating the concepts of ‘action’ (Goffman 1967) and ‘edgework’ (Lyng 2005) into the analysis of late modern excitement. Finally, the chapter addresses one of the most intriguing aspects of exciting experience today by discussing what could be considered as a ‘paradox of excitement,’ in which the growing desire for excitement is accompanied by vanishing opportunities for an authentic experience of this emotional state.