Sociological Ambivalence

extreme sisysphusMerriam-Webster definition of ambivalence

  1. simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action

  2. a: continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite)   b: uncertainty as to which approach to follow


Sociological Ambivalence (as largely conceived by Robert K Merton)

Ambivalence denotes contrasting commitments and orientations; it refers to simultaneous conflicting feelings toward a person or an object; and it is commonly used to describe and explain the hesitance and uncertainty caused by the juxtaposition between contradictory values, preferences, and expectations. Lay-person use follows intuitive psychological explanations which refer to ambivalence interchangeably with personal hesitation, confusion, indeterminacy, and agitation. In contrast, sociological use suggests that although ambivalence is a bi-polar, subjective experience, its causes are social and hence understandable and predictable. True, most sociological uses of the term maintain its conflictual denotations, but this volatile experience is treated as the result of contrasting social pressures exerted on actors.

From the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (Online)