The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling

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Citation: Arlie Russell Hochschild (1983) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling.


Tagged: Sociology (RSS) NatematiasGenerals (RSS), emotional labor (RSS), airlines (RSS), labor (RSS), sociology (RSS), ethnography (RSS), gender (RSS), women (RSS), flight attendants (RSS), activism (RSS), authenticity (RSS), sincerity (RSS), method acting (RSS), stanislavsky (RSS), sociology (RSS), capitalism (RSS), employee training (RSS), harassment (RSS), bill collecting (RSS)


In the book that first introduced the idea of emotional labor (1983), Arlie Hochschild describes jobs where emotional expressions like smiles are "part of the work," and the corporate processes that train workers into forms of feeling that are deeper than just a surface performance, whether those workers function as the positive "toe" of the company or its negative "heel."

Throughout the book, Hochschild:

  • offers definitions of emotional labor in relation to other kinds of labor
  • argues that emotional labor is more than just a surface performance, engaging with people's intimate emotional life
  • discusses the idea of "feeling rules" in life
  • explores the role of feeling rules in the exchanges of private life
  • describes the use of "feeling rules" in commercial environments
  • contrasts positive and negative emotional labor
  • highlights gender differences in emotional labor
  • considers the link between "authenticity" and emotional labor


Hochschild's book is built around a thorough range of inquiry, with a special focus on the experience of flight attendants:

  • personal stories in a practice of reflexive self-disclosure
  • surveys of two Berkeley classes (n=261) coded with research assistants for evidence of emotion work. The surveys asked:
    • "describe a real situation that was important to you in which you experienced a deep emotion"
    • "Describe as fully and concretely as possible a real situation that was important to you in which you either changed the situation to fit your feelings or changed your feelings to fit the situation.
  • an extensive ethnographic exploration of the experience of flight attendants at the airline Delta
    • attending classes at the Delta Training Center
    • conversing with trainers on and off duty
    • conversing with new recruits
    • conversing with experienced flight attendants
    • interviewing 20 Delta officials
    • interview with 7 supervisors in a group
    • interviewed advertising agents
    • observed 30 years of Delta advertising material
    • interviewed two PR officials in charge of "handling" Hochschild
  • observed flight attendant recruitment at Pan American Airways
    • group and individual interviews
  • 3-5 hour open-ended individual interviews with 30 flight attendants (25 women, 5 men) from a range of airlines, with an average of 11 years of experience
  • 5 union officials trying to organize American Airlines flight attendants
  • a sex therapist who had seen 50 flight attendants as clients
  • observed an assertiveness training course for flight attendants
  • interviewed 5 bill collectors at Delta, including the head of Delta's billing department

Throughout the book, Hochschild puts this data in conversation with theory on the nature of the emotions, the nature of work, and thinking on post-industrialist economies of the 20th century.

Exploring the Managed Heart

In the opening chapter, Hochschild introduces the idea of emotional labor by comparing the experience of a fight attendant to the child factory laborer described in Marx's Das Kapital. By starting with this example, Hochschild is contrasting between these two kinds of labor while also pointing out how the flight attendant's smile and emotions are as much "an instrument of labor" as the body of the child.

Hochschild argues that "the emotional style of offering the service is part of the service itself" (5). Hochschild defines emotional labor as:

the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value. I use the synonymous terms emotion work or emotion management to refer to these same acts done in a private context where they have use value. (7)

Furthermore, emotional requires people to "coordinate self and feeling" and disguise the effort involved; "otherwise the labor would show in an unseemly way, and the product--passenger contentment-- would be damaged" (8). To achieve this Hochschild argues, people engaged in emotional labor are often expected to train their feelings, not just their performance of feeling. When people "work up some warmth" of feeling out of obligation to an employer, Hoschild calls this a "transmutation of the private ways we use feeling" (19).

In this chapter, Hochschild sets up the scholarly conversations her book engages with:

  • the idea of emotional labor in context of post-industrial socity[1] in the 20th century, where the need for interpersonal skills in the service industry rather than mechanical skills in manufacturing were becoming dominant. Hoschild also links her work to discussions of geographic and social mobility, which require people to "move through many social worlds and get the gist of dozens of social roles" (21).
  • the display of feeling, as explored by sociologist Erving Goffman
  • discussions on what emotions are, and how people manage emotions (giving this topic an entire appendix)
  • discussions of gender and class differences in labor

Feeling as a Clue

In this chapter, Hoschild sets shares an example from the flight attendant training, where a trainer encourages flight attendants in strategies to remove anger or irritation and also "reduced the anger in the class" as she teaches. Hoschild shares this example, along with stories by flight attendants, to set up the possibility that feeling might not just be a "biological event, something that external stimuli can bring on" but might be something that people manage (29). Drawing from Freud, Hoschild argues that feeling is instead a "signal function" that comes from a standpoint. Sometimes we use it to justify our actions, but sometimes we hide it or transform it.

Managing Feeling

When we manage our feelings, is it just an act, or is it something deeper? Hoschild argues that Erving Goffman's work on The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life[2] focuses on "surface acting" and that another form of emotional performance, "deep acting" is also present in emotional labor. To do so, she draws from the Stanislavski method of acting[3], where actors are encouraged to draw from personal experience to go beyond pretending to feel to actually feeling. Goffman argues that there are two kinds of deep acting:

  • "One is by directly exhorting feeling"
  • "making indirect use of a trained imagination"

In this second case, people use "emotion memory" to recall things that prompt the kind of feeling needed in a particular situation (40). The method actor "must first experience them in that way too, perhaps with an eye to using the feelings later" (41). To make use of this emotion memory, "the actor must believe that an imagined happening really is happening now." by conjuring an "as if" supposition that they bring to the current situation (42).

Hoschild that this kind of deep acting occurs often in everyday life, drawing from her surveys of Berkeley students. She describes moments where students felt that their emotional reaction to situations didn't appropriately match a situation, and they used their emotion memory to adjust their emotions(43). For example, one student discusses a painful break-up by describing a "double pretending" where she was "pretending to him" that she loved him and "pretending to herselve that she loved him." After the breakup, she also attempted to retrain her emotions with that interpretation (45-6). In another case, Hoschild describes someone who is trying to change a sense of being trapped in a marriage into a sense of wanting to remain voluntarily.

Hoschild argues that institutions can also be involved in emotion management, where "companies, prisons, schools, churches... assume some of the functions of a director" in method acting, suggesting "how to imagine and... how to feel" like "a farmer puts blinders on his workhorse to guide its visions forward" (49). She argues that "institutions arrange their front stages... guide the way we see and what we are likely to feel spontaneously," whether they are medical facilities, a psychiatrist's office, or an airplane. Finally, Hoschild offers examples of a telephone company offering prescription-free drugs to help employees manage their moods[4]

Feeling Rules

When we manage our emotions to follow "a script or a moral stance," Hoschild calls those scripts "feeling rules." After outlining the ways that different social contexts vary in the feeling rules, Hoschild discusses the "rule reminders" through which we recognize that these rules exist, whether reminders come from ourselves or others, through explicit reference to how we should feel ("cajoling, chiding, tasing, scolding, shunning)(59), the reactions of others.

Hoschild also outlines differences between psychiatry and sociology, examining the case of the emotional anxiety experienced by a bride. Where psychiaty would focus on the individual's feeling, the sociologist would focus on the ceremony, the social context, and the web of rights and obligations that interact with the person's own feelings to foster "proper" feelings within a ritual. The anxious bride feels "a gap between the ideal feeling and the actual feeling" and carries out "emotion work" to prompt herself to "be happy" (61).

This sense of "misfitting feelings" reveals "feeling rules," according to Hoschild, often felt at weddings, funerals. We might feel too much or too little, experience mis-timed feelings, and face challenges around the public-ness of those feelings as we encounter rules about the right place and time to experience feelings.

Beyond individual events, Hoschild also discusses the role of feeling rules in long-term relationships. She argues that while these close relationships "expect to have more freedom from feeling rules and less need for emotion work," "the deeper the bond, the more emotion work, and the more unconscious we are of it" (68). Hoschild discusses the idea of family as a "relief zone away from the pressures of work," where normative feeling rules, especially between parent and child are very clear (69). And yet, times of cultural change with rising divorce and remarriage rates, with women taking on careers and children cared for by professionals, call into question the roles and feeling rules associated with family. Hoschild argues that "if periods of rapid change induce status anxiety, they also lead to anxiety about what, after all, the feeling rules are."

Paying Respects with Feeling: The Gift Exchange

In this chapter, Hoschild considers obligations of feeling in cases of reciprocity and exchange. She uses the example of a novice worker who seeks advice from an expert and who consequently "owes gratitude" (77). In these exchanges, the sincerity of the gratitude is part of the exchange -- if the gratitude is not sincere, the receiver may feel that the giver of gratitude has not paid what has been owed(78). Hoschild calls this a "straight exchange" of feeling (78).

Hoschild also discusses "improvisational" use of feeling exchange with an example where an instructor fails to support a new employee, the novice complains, the instructure says ironically, "Gee, I'm really sorry, I feel so bad" and both of them laugh (79). For Hoschild, this ironic expression of feeling puts the two employees in solidarity rather than conflict by acknowledging that the priorities that expect an opology are set by the company, not the novice.

People with obligations could feel could choose not to pay by failing to follow the emotion rule. They could also engage in "antipayment," where the obliged person doesn't follow the emotion rule and also permits displays of opposite feelings (81).

Hoschild also discusses emotional "offerings" to long-term relationships, what happens when people take on emotional work to maintain a relationship, especially marriages, where Hoschild considers equal opportunities and status hard to maintain.

Feeling Management

In this chapter, Hoschild reports her work at Delta airlines to explore "what happens to the way a person relates to her feelings or to her face" when emotion is managed and sold by a company in situations where "workers have weaker rights to courtesy than customers" (89).

In these contexts, "a separation of display and feeling" (emotive dissonance) "is hard to keep up over long periods" (90). Hoschild offers a fascinating claim about the history of contestation over emotional labor in the airline industry leading up to her fieldwork in 1978:

In the airline industry of the 1950s and 1960s, a remarkable transmutation was achieved. But certain trends... led this transmutation to fail in the early 1970s. An industry speed-up and a stronger union hand in limiting the company's claims weakened the transmutation... Those who sincerely wanted to make the deeper offering found they could not do so, and those who all along had resisted company intrusions on the self came to feel some rights to freedom from it...When the transmutation succeeded, the worker was asked to take pride in making an instrument of feeling. When it collapsed, workers came to see that instrument as overused, underappreciated, and susceptible to damage. (91)

In this chapter, Hoschild describes how Delta's focus on profits influenced its effort to link up its advertising with its expected flight attendant behavior, offering a service that is "human and personal" (93). Some airlines (not Delta) even encouraged sexualized advertising and attendant behavior as an attempt to reduce the fear of flying among male customers, a set of expectations that came to characterize public understanding of the role [5]. In this context, "ordinary niceness is no longer enough; after all, hasn't the passenger paid for extra civility?" (95).

Hoschild outline the corporate forces at work in this emotional labor(95):

  • the selection process of flight attendants, where:
    • manuals of conduct for interviewees focus on their emotional bearing
    • applicants are selected based on appearance
    • applicants are screened for "outgoing middle-class sociability," based on the kind of image they want to project and customers they want to reach
    • applicants are chosen "for their ability to take stage directions about how to 'project' an image" (98)
  • Training for nearly 9 hours a day: where "the training would... stake out a series of company claims on private territorials of self" (100-102)
    • reminders that employees could be easily replaced
    • standards of conduct (no alcohol, no personal pastimes like knitting or reading, no gifts)
    • changing notion of home (since staff could be living in many different places in their early career)
    • weight standards for attendants
    • identifying with the company and seeing themselves as representing the company
    • the sense that it was safe to feel dependent on the company
    • the idea that the company was a family
    • appeals to smile and to modify feeling states, asking trainees to "think of a passenger as if he were a 'personal guest in your living room.' "

Hochschild pays especially close attention to the analogy of the workplace to the living room, focusing on moments when the analogy would break down in moments of danger, unreciprocated hospitality, or "when the going gets rough" with late planes and crying babies.

Another analogy given to airline attendants it the appeal to think of unruly customers "just like children," referring to them by name and using terms of empathy (111).

Airline companies also manage employee feelings by encouraging certain kinds of language: "supervisors never speak officially of an obnoxious or outrageous passenger, only of an uncontrolled passenger" (111). One evocative example refers to a passenger who "snitched" the dessert from another person's tray; the attended responded by saying that "I notice this man's dessert is on your tray" rather than escribing blame (112).

In addition to these cases of individual emotional labor between attendants and customers, Hochschild also describes collective emotional labor, outlining the work done in teams and the banter that regulates and relaxes flight attendants (115-116).

Hochschild gives more space to the role of supervision, from customer comments go into the personal files of flight attendants the reviews of "plaiclothes supervisors" influence careers, and the way that direct supervisors use that information to make decisions affecting attendants. Mostly, attendants are rated by customers in twice-annual passenger evaluations, and the supervisors emotional workers that perform the face of the company to attendants, just as attendants are the face of the company to customers. (118)

Hochschild argues that all of these forms of emotion work are transmuted from the private realm (the living room) to the commercial setting (119) in places like Delta. To achieve this, Hochschild argues, workers must "give up control over how the work is to be done," as company policies are decided further up the chain. For this reason, Hochschild calls the deep acting of emotional labor "a new development in deskilling" that narrowly defines how workers carry out their labor. In the case of flight attendants, who are highly trained to handle emergency situations, their emotional labor became the focus of people's perception of their job as "no more than glamorous waitresses" despite their substantial skills in logistics and emergency management (120,121).

The status of emotional labor is in tension with company imperatives for efficiency, argues Hochschild, who describes the way that flight attendants had less time with individual passengers as airplanes became faster, passenger capacity grew, and airports reduced layover times with greater efficiency (122). The U.S. recession in the early 1970s prompted this drive for efficiency, and Hochschild relates stories from employees who experienced it.

Organizing By Emotion Workers

While this topic doesn't get a whole chapter in Hochschild's book, I see this as one of the most interesting.Natematias (talk) 02:54, 5 March 2015 (UTC)

Hochschild describes the challenges of engaging in labor activism in emotion work: "since their job is to act upon a commercial stage, under managerial directors, their protest may take the form of rebelling against the costumes, the script, and the general choreography" (126). Here, Hochschild describes actions by flight attendants to set up unions to organize for higher wages, more recreational trips, better health ansd safety regulations, and larger crews:

"what is directly relevant here is that they have challenged company regulations affecting whole territories of the body and its adornment, regulations on facial make-up, hairstyles, undergarments, jewelry, and shoe styles" (126)

One example of airline activism is the "shoe-in" where crews would collectively wear shoes against regulations, wear an extra piece of jewelry, or differ from regulations inthe make-up they war. If the employee was cited for the offence, the grievance would then become a point of contention between unions and the company, especially around body weight regulations, where employees would calibrate their weight to be just high enough above regulations to pressure the company on these rules and potentially prompt legal action (127). The most notable of these tensions was what Hochschild called "the smile war" around the requirement of employees to smile. Workers would sometimes refuse to perform and "go into robot" by visibly pretending to show feeling in an ironic critique of the labor required of them (129).

If a stage company were to protest against the director, the costume designer, and the author of a play, the protest would almost certainly take the form of a strike--a total refusal to act. In the airline industry the play goes on, but the costumes are gradually altered, the script is shortened little by little, and the style of acting itself is changed-- at the edge of the lips, in the cheek muscles, and in the mental activities that regulate what a smile means (131)

Emotional Labor and the Redefined Self

In this section Hochschild puts forward three questions unique to those who do emotional labor:

  • "how can I feel really identified with my work role and with the company without being fused with them?" (132)
  • "how can I use my capacities[for deep acting] when I'm disconnected from from those I am acting for" -- the airline cabin is not a living room full of personal guests but a cabin "full of demanding strangers," so they fall back on surfce acting and worry about "being phony" (134)
  • "if I'm doing deep acting for an audience from whom I'm disconnected, how can I maintain my self-esteem without becoming cynical?" How does one maintain the illusion safely?

Between the Toe and the Heel: Jobs and Emotional Labor

Here, Hochschild presents the results of her smaller, less former research with collections at Delta, the "heel" of the company when compared to the smiles of flight attendants. Yet unlike flight attendants, bill collectors were not screened or trained as carefully; Hochschild imagines that employees "had probably learned skills in escalating aggression much earlier in life" (139). These employees appreciated not having to act nice, and unlike the attendants who enhance customer status, these employees deflate the customer's status and work at "wearing down the customer's presumed resistance to paying" (139). In the offices of these employees were signs like "Catch your customer off guard. Control the conversation" (141). Collectors, who were allowed to give false names, learned from their own managers to rapidly escalate the stress in a conversation and avoid feeling empathy or trust for customers (141). Among the debt collecters interviewed by Hochschild, aggressiveness is expected in these contexts and complaints are considered a sign of success (146).

Hochschild concludes the chapter by identifying examples of emotional labor in a wide variety of jobs as well as the family.

Gender, Status, and Feeling

In this chapter, Hochschild connects gender and status to emotion work, arguing that emotion work is not as important for men as women, and not in the same ways, because "women in general have far less independent access to money, power, authority, or status in society" and "are a subordinate social stratum" (162-3):

  • "lacking other resources, women make a resource out of feeling and offer it to men as a gift in return for the more material resources they lack"
  • men and women tend to be allocated to different kinds of emotion work: women as flight attendants and men as bill collectors.
  • "the general subordination of women leaves every individual woman with a weaker 'status shield' against the displaced feelings of others" and therefore more likely targets for the aggression and abuse of others (163)
  • "a different portion of the managed heart is enlisted for commercial use" between men and women, with women responding to subordination by using their appearance and relational skills defensively, while male workers wield anger and threats-- with both groups experiencing alienation or estrangement from that part of them

To support these claims, Hochschild talks about common stereotypes about middle class women and how they influence how women are seen. She also discusses the expectations that women display cooperative and "emotional arts" to succeed. Citing Vian Illich on "Shadow Work"[6], where "the trick is to erase any evidence of effort, to offer only the clean house and the welcoming smile" (167).

Hochschild argues that another reason for gender differences might be that "more women at all class levels do unpaid labor of a highly interpersonal sort" (170). She also describes the rising number of women in the workplace; in the early 19080s, emotional labor constituted 1/3 of employment in the U.S., 1/4 of all men's employment and over half of women's employment.

Hochschild argues that when women are placed in jobs of emotional labor, attitudes towards women in general are affected; even as women are afforded courtesies of politeness or chivalry, "their feelings are accorded less weight than the feelings of a man" (171). This can happen in two ways:

  • "by considering them rational but unimportant"
  • "by considering them irrational and hence dismissable"

In the workplace, people who have less status (e.g. women) have less of a "shield" against abuse, claims Hochschild. As a result, "a day's accumulation of passenger abuse for a woman differs from a day's accumulation of it for a man," as women are "more exposed than men to rude or surly speech, to tirades" (174). At Delta, male attendants were asked about their career plans, while women attendants were asked why they weren't married (176). Male flight attendants reacted to passengers "as if they had mroe authority than they really did" while "female flight attendants... assuming that passengers would honor their authority less, used more tactful and deferential means of handling abuse" (178). The result was an assumption that women flight attendants had a "higher tolerance for abuse" (179).

Hochschild concludes this chapter by examining the ways that companies used public perceptions of women as motherly or sexually attractive to "attach profit to these qualities" (182). As a result, women felt estranged from these statuses and many female flight attendants saw therapists to work through a loss of sexual interest (183).

The Search for Authenticity

Might the growing role of emotional labor help explain the increasing focus on "authenticity" in Western society and commercial life? Hochschild concludes the book by considering this question. To begin, Hochschild argues that "a good part of modern life involves exchange between total strangers" and that emotional labor preserves the possibility of trust and good will rather than suspicion and anger.

When people have trouble "adjusting self to role" and are estranged from display of emotions, feeling, or the signal function that emotion offers to the self, they might doubt themselves -- they might also be doubted by others as just friendly for their job. This is the context into which authenticity becomes important. Hochschild cites Lionel Trilling's Norton lectures on Sincerity and Authenticity[7], which outline the history of this idea.


The appendix of this book is well worth exploring, which offers an overview of academic thinking on the emotions "from Darwin to Goffman" up to the point of publication. Another appendix offers some early results from cognitive psychology in the early 80s on how to name and describe feeling, and the role that naming plays in our personal experience of emotion

The notes and bibliography of the book are also extensive; together with the appendices, they comprise roughly 1/3 of the printed book.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

This book, which introduced the idea of emotional labor, is a classic work of sociology. It's notable for its arguments, for its methods, and for the clear and winsome style. The book won the Charles Cooley Award in 1983, awarded by the American Sociological Association and received an honorable mention for the C. Wright Mills Award. Highly recommended.

References of Note

  1. Bell, D. (1976) The coming of the post-industrial society. The Educational Forum, 40:4.
  2. Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life Anchor Books.
  3. Stanislavsky, Konstantin. (1936) An Actor Prepares Routledge, 1989 paperback edition
  4. R Howard (1981) "Drugged, Bugged, and Coming Unplugged." Mother Jones
  5. author unknown. "An Airline Powered By Charm" Fortune Magazine, June 18, 1979
  6. Illich, Ivan. (1980) Shadow Work. Philosophica 26 (2) pp 7-56
  7. Trilling, Lionel. (1972) "Sincerity and Authenticity" Harvard University Press