In the anthropology of emotion, rival approaches – cultural relativism and a universalism based on common humanity or shared experience – imply different forms of engagement in the field. This article, a sceptical appraisal, suggests that ethnographers commonly fail to build the diversity of emotional practice into their accounts and have therefore provided a flawed basis for theorizing and comparison. With reference to two Indonesian cases – Nias and Java – I suggest that the domain of emotion is diversely bounded cross-culturally and is inconsistently constructed in particular contexts. This has critical implications for fieldwork methodology, cross-cultural comparison, and theories of human development.