Taipei: Taiwan shehui yanjiu congkan 台灣社會研究叢刊 (Academic books series of Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies), 2012. 366 pp. NT $370.
Many scholars regard Josephine Chuen-juei Ho and Ying-Bin Ning as the most outspoken and significant theorists of sexuality in Taiwan. The pair, who have been at the forefront of feminism and sexual liberation for many years, have now shifted their focus to the most private emotions. Their new monograph, Minkun choucheng (People in Trouble), tackles the problems triggered by rapid social change. They attempt to insert emotion, the body, and sex into critical theories associated with economics, politics, and various forms of modernity. By delineating the limitations of rationalized emotions and civilized barbarity, the authors also engage with the moral progressivism that has been popularized in recent years.
Ho and Ning combine theoretical dialectics with their reflections on recent social events in Taiwan. Over twenty chapters, they demarcate the territories of public spheres and private emotional laboring, exploring the psychological dynamics therein. In the first part of the book, the authors illustrate the significance of emotions in social critical theory, arguing that emotional disorders not only arise from the oppression of capitalism but also drive modernity. In addition, the authors emphasize that apart from the burgeoning depressive disorders, narcissistic personalities make failure a side effect of modern societies. In the second part of the book, Ho and Ning analyze the historical background of “emotional control” and its relationship with the cognitive theories that have gained credence in the past half century. And they explain how the “ungrounded emotions,” existing in our daily life, are aggravated by expert governmentality, [End Page 495] numerical rationality, and the reflective capacity cultivated among ideal modern citizens.
In addition to critically reviewing contemporary theories of emotions and their disorders, Ho and Ning propose an alternative explanation for the phenomenon they call minkun choucheng (referring to a societal condition when everyone is stuck in a troubled situation, such as a war). They toil to explain and contextualize the theories, occasionally presenting examples that will resonate with Taiwanese readers by drawing on popular television programs, current affairs, and topics of general interest. Responding to the heated debate regarding whether emotional disorders indeed exist in contemporary Taiwan, the authors redirect the conversation while reflecting on the work of Anthony Giddens, Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Christopher Lasch, and other theorists, eventually focusing on society’s deep structure.
The authors suggest various ways that readers can interpret their book, depending on whether they are interested in critical theory, philosophy, gender issues, the sociology of mental disorders, or depression. Using colloquial language, they provide both a bibliography relevant to their central argument and a referential framework for those who are involved in social movements related to diverse forms of emotional and physical liberation.
Nevertheless, there are problems with the ways in which Ho and Ning convey their ideas. First, since most of the ideas they criticize will doubtless be unfamiliar to most readers, the heavily footnoted and sometimes reframed text presents a real obstacle, particularly since the authors also set out a case for their personal elaborations. Readers may end up confused as to whether the book is an anthology of translation studies or a new theoretical account. Second, some examples given to support certain concepts are presented in a haphazard rather than systematic way. Consequently, some cases presented in the book remain idiosyncratic and unconvincing. For example, the doctor who criticizes the labeling effect of psychiatry (91) actually represents the ideology of Scientology and should thus be treated as an outlier rather than typical. Third, although the authors accentuate the importance of contextualizing theories, to present their ideas within a reasonable scope they ultimately have to cherry-pick the concepts that they explain to their readers. This results in a distorted picture of the philosophy and development of modern psychiatry, a field in which the authors are not experts. For example, relationships among schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorder, and common psychiatric disorders are...