ABSTRACT

In her seminal work, The Managed Heart, Hochschild (1983) drew attention to the increasing requirement by employers, particularly in service industries, for their staff to perform ‘emotion work’ or to attempt to change or manage their emotions in order to present only those feelings that are deemed suitable to the situation and/ or suppress those which are deemed inappropriate. The requirement to conform to socially accepted display rules or ‘feeling rules’ – i.e. we don’t laugh at funerals; we do smile at weddings; we speak respectfully to our bosses; we tend not to show explosive anger at work, and so on – is accepted by Hochschild as being in line with a learned ‘social structure’ and a necessary skill within a smooth-running society: it is the appropriation of this skill for commercial purposes that is most properly termed ‘emotional labour’ and that is under scrutiny here. The fi xed smile and friendly, helpful manner of airline cabin crew and the cheery ‘have a nice day’ greeting of McDonalds staff – even in the face of the most diffi cult, unappreciative passenger or customer – is presented as the epitome of ‘the social actor’s ability to work on emotion in order to present a socially desirable performance and capitalism’s appropriation of that skill’ (Bolton and Boyd, 2003: 291). This appropriation of emotional skill is summarized by Hochschild in her description of the work airline cabin crew are expected to perform:

The company lays claim not simply to her physical motions – how she handles food trays – but to her emotional actions and the way they show in the ease of a smile . . . For the fl ight attendant, the smiles are a part of her work, a part that requires her to co-ordinate self and feeling so that the work seems to be effortless. To show that enjoyment takes effort is to do the job poorly. Similarly, part of the job is to disguise fatigue and irritation, for otherwise the labour would show in an unseemly way, and the product – passenger contentment – would be damaged. (Hochschild, 1983: 7-8)

Hochschild goes on to outline three modes of emotional expression, all of which can be drawn into commercial service. In the cognitive mode, the labourer attempts to change images, ideas or thoughts in the service of changing the feelings associated with them (a classic example of this in my own domain of education would be the reframing of a ‘failure’ as ‘an opportunity for learning’). Recognizing

the link between the emotional and physical, the bodily mode of emotion management entails attempting to change somatic or other physical symptoms of emotion, such as trying to breathe more slowly or trying not to shake when we are nervous or frightened. In the third mode, the expressive mode, the act of trying to change expressive gestures in the service of changing inner feeling – for example trying to smile, or to cry – we are attempting to clothe ourselves in the accepted expressions of a particular emotion without feeling it on the inside.