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Emotion work refers to the management and regulation of one’s own feelings, or the personal effort expended to maintain equilibrium in relationship, through the production, transformation or inhibition of feelings. The term ”emotional labor” is sometimes used interchangeably with ”emotion work,” which can be confusing. To differentiate the terms, emotional labor takes place in a paid, public work environment, while emotion work is unpaid and engaged in a private or public setting within the context of personal relationships. Emotional labor requires workers to display certain emotions to customers or co-workers, as part of their job duties in order to promote specific organizational goals. Emotion work does not have specific requirements; it is an interactive process that occurs to preserve or sustain personal relationships. Emotion management refers to the complex process of managing oneself and others; it is another term used synonymously with emotion work.
Closely related to emotion work as a critical aspect of interpersonal communication in the social domain are affect control and display theories, social exchange theories, and ability and concept models of emotional intelligence. Each of these concepts focuses upon various aspects of the process, context, and outcomes of emotion work. Symbolic interactionists examine emotions by exploring ways that individuals use their agency to navigate their feelings among various cultural constraints. A sense of correct response to situations is rooted in ”feeling rules,” which are culturally and socially determined norms for how one is supposed to feel in a given situation (Hochschild 2003). For example, it is the norm to feel sad about tragic events and happy about achievements. Expressions of emotion work vary immensely within cultures, and may be displayed in various external manners ranging from a discreet facial expression to a profuse body gesture.
Sociologists have included emotion work in their research for decades. Early classical thinkers including Durkheim, Mead, Marx, and Weber addressed emotion in the larger context of their analyses of society. However, in the late 1970s, Arlie Hochschild introduced the concept of emotional labor in the workplace as the actual process a person engages in an effort to follow feeling rules.
Drawing upon the legacy of Erving Goffman’s theory of facework, Hochschild states that emotions are managed through situational and cultural feeling rules and display dictums that constitute the emotion culture. Individuals may engage in either surface acting or deep acting in order to comply with feeling and display rules. Surface acting involves simply adapting one’s outward expressions and presentation to deceive others about one’s true feelings. In contrast, deep acting requires that an individual must not only change one’s expressions, but also modify the personal experience of emotions by deceiving oneself about the nature or extent of one’s feelings in order to match the emotional display required by an organization. Such acting can result in feeling inauthentic, as well as alienated, stressed, and depressed. Hochschild highlights the gendered nature of emotional work and labor, noting that women have handled the bulk of it in both the workforce and household.
While much research has been conducted in business organizations about the conceptualizations, linkages and operations of emotion work, much remains to explore regarding in-depth examinations of cross-cultural features of emotion work, and emotion work in children.
- Hochschild, A. R. (2003) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, 20th anniv. edn. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
- Goleman, D. (2005) Emotional Intelligence, 10thanniv. edn. Bantam Books, New York.
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