Sociology 250

November 13, 2002

Hochschild – Sociology of emotions

1. Earlier analysis of emotions

 Emotions are strong feelings that individuals experience and express – love, anger, hate, friendship. The study of emotions and feelings became a more important part of sociology beginning in the 1970s, following the development of the women’s movement. Wallace and Wolf (pp. 239-241) note how some emotions were considered by earlier sociologists, although the rational decision-making process associated with nineteenth century enlightenment man of Weber, Marx, and Durkheim left little room for emotions and feelings. Durkheim’s social currents and collective consciousness in traditional societies allowed for the possibility of these at the societal level, but he said little about how emotions are involved in social interaction. Parsons, with his pattern variables and system needs, also hints at these (affectivity, selfishness) but generally leaves little theoretical room for including emotions as an essential aspect of social action. Simmel and the early symbolic interaction theorists also hinted at emotions, for example, they might be implicit in self indication and the conversation with the self, but again they devoted little attention to analysis of feelings of individuals. Emotions might easily be regarded as part of the interpretation process, and what is meaningful could involve these – for example, grief at a funeral, affection and love in attraction between two people, or anger expressed in an obscene gesture.

Goffman considers emotions when he focusses on impression management, considering how people present positive impressions and attempt to avoid embarrassment or contradiction between the front and back regions. In the merry-go-round example, the happiness of the child, the embarrassment of a young teenager, or the detachment of an adult are each expressions of some emotional aspects of the individual in a particular situation. Goffman also argues that impression management is work that involves effort and energy of individuals perform in social situations. Being accepted in a group extends the emotional resources of the group to the individual. It is Hochschild who develops these ideas more fully, considering a fuller range of emotions, examining how these are connected to social interaction, how individuals work to express emotions, and how emotions are expressed in informal and formal situations and contexts.

2. Hochschild’s approach

Arlie Hochschild (1940- ) is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has established the sociology of emotions as a field of study. She has written three books, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (1983), The Second Shift (1989), and The Time Bind (1997). In The Managed Heart, she examines how feelings of service sector workers are commercialized by employers. In the latter two books, she examines how families, and males and females in families, manage time, career, household work, and emotional work. Each of these books is contemporary and very readable, with Hochschild demonstrating how a symbolic interaction approach can yield useful theoretical and practical insights in studies of family, gender relations, and the sociology of work.

Hochschild uses an interactionist perspective, although one that makes emotions and feeling a central focus of her study. She argues that emotions are social and can act as signals concerning the relation between the environment and the self. In this sense, emotions can be symbols that are widely recognized and form part of the way that each of us manages and expresses ourselves in social interaction. Our ability to manage emotions is based on our expectations of others and the expectations of others toward us, and these can be mutually understandable because these are based on earlier experiences. In the interaction perspective, our emotions act as part of the interpretive process, and the emotions that have become part of the social self are one means that we use to interpret stimuli and develop an appropriate response.

In some approaches, emotions and feelings are considered natural or biological in nature, so that they are beyond our control. Hochschild notes "the organismic model defines emotion as mainly a biological process. For the early Freud, emotion (affect) is libidinal discharge, for Darwin it is instinct" (Hockschild, p. 205). In these approaches, emotions are fixed in nature, common across many people, "have a prior existence apart from introspection" (Hochschild, p. 205). If this is the case, then emotions are not a proper subject for sociological study, except perhaps to consider how others interpret emotions that are expressed.

From the symbolic interaction perspective, emotions and feelings are social in several respects, they are "open-ended" (Hochschild, p. 206) and not fixed, differ across individuals, and "social factors enter not simply before and after but interactively during the experience of emotion" (Hochschild, p. 211). As an example, consider that an individual is insulted and becomes angry – among the factors that enter into the outcome is the cultural context that makes a statement an insult, how the individual reacts to the insult, how the individual responds to others as anger is expressed, how the individual reacts to his or her own anger (shame or pride), and whether the individual controls the anger or extends it. Each of these are social aspects and subject to sociological consideration and analysis. Within this context, Hochschild notes that the interactionist can consider the working out of emotions in social interaction as ways that the self responds in situations and contexts or ways that institutions and personalities are linked and interact. The former relates to the approach of Mead and the latter to that of Goffman.

Adams and Sydie argue that Hochschild extends the study of emotions to a fuller range of emotions than merely the shame and embarrassment noted by Goffman. In addition, "she examines the outward signs of emotional response and work … [and] she also examines the inner emotional life of the self" (Adams and Sydie, p. 518). This might be compared with the front (outward signs) and back (self) stage of Goffman’s dramaturgical approach. But Hochschild is interested in more than presentation of self, she is also concerned with "how people try to feel" (Adams and Sydie, p. 518).

Through childhood socialization, each of us learns what are proper expressions of emotions and feeling, although there is great flexibility in how we manage these. For example, males are not supposed to express sorrow or grief by crying, but even those males in positions where they are not supposed to show emotions are allowed to express a certain degree of anger, in fact some anger might be expected in certain circumstances. On the other hand, females may be expected to show the emotion of grief more than are males, and female expression of anger is regarded as unacceptable and outside the bounds of normal social behaviour. It is through ongoing socialization and interaction with others that we alter our emotions and feelings, modify how we express these, and in doing so we likely alter and modify our own emotions and feelings.

3. Emotion work and management

Emotion work and management is a major part of Hochschild’s approach. This involves consideration of how people manage their own emotions, how individuals are capable of feeling and recognizing what is appropriate and inappropriate in the situation and interaction in which the individual is involved (Adams and Sydie, p. 519). She argues that all of us act in social situations – through what she calls surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting is the "body language, the put-on sneer, the posed shrug, the controlled sigh" (Hochschild, p. 35) whereas deep acting is where "display is a natural result of working on feeling, the actor does not try to seem happy or sad but rather expresses spontaneously … a real feeling that has been self-induced." (Hochschild, p. 35). This difference parallels Goffman’s front and back stage although expresses the presentation of self somewhat differently. Deep acting is more comparable to the self that is developed through consistency of front and back stage. Adams and Sydie summarize various means that individuals use to manage their emotions – evocation and suppression using cognitive, bodily, and expressive techniques" (Adams and Sydie, p. 519). All of these are work in the sense of managing and presenting self.

Hochschild extends the analysis of emotion work further when she introduces the idea of control or management of emotions by others, including institutions and, more specifically, commercial enterprises. This happens when "within institutions various elements of acting are taken away from the individual and replaced by institutional mechanisms" (Hochschild, p. 49). While some aspects of this may be inevitable in any human group, she argues that more alarming is when "some institutions have become very sophisticated in the techniques of deep acting; they suggest how to imagine and thus how to feel" (Hochschild, p. 49). This may be a way of connecting Marx’s approach to alienation to some current types of work in the service sector.

Where emotion work is commoditized, that is, offered for sale or as part of a service, Hochschild refers to this as "emotion labour" (Adams and Sydie, p. 520). That is, note that certain emotions can be expressed to the public and in the service sector workers are required to provide some expressions as part of the sale (Wallace and Wolf, p. 242). An example is the smile and friendly chat from the Safeway checkout clerk – this could be either surface or deep acting. Or it may be the emotion itself that is delivered as part of the service – making people feel good in the case of real estate or appliance salespeople, or making people feel guilty for not saving sufficiently in the case of some financial services.

In analyzing how emotional labour is performed and structured, Hochschild uses Marx’s concepts of use-value and exchange value. She argues that expressing emotions is always work in the sense that there is an expenditure of human energy in showing sympathy, trust, good feelings in positive situations (sales in stores), or distrust and suspicion in negative situations (stopped by police). Emotional work in the private sphere has a use-value, for example, for maintaining and improving family life it is useful to have affection, love, tenderness, and at the same time some degree of toughness and discipline. In the commercial sector, emotions can sometimes be sold and have an exchange value – grief and compassion (funeral home), anxiety (life insurance salesman), nostalgia (antiques, baseball cards), trust and happiness (smiles and greetings at WalMart).

Jobs requiring emotional labour have three aspects to them (Wallace and Wolf, p. 242). First, they are face-to-face or have voice contact. Second, the employee is required to produce a particular emotional state in others, for example, fear, gratitude, happiness, good feelings, etc. Third, since the workers are hired to produce these feelings, the employer exercises some control over the emotional activities of employees. The employee is attempting to manage emotions of customers, and employers in turn are managing the emotional activities of employees. In some cases, this begins to alter the actual emotions or feelings of the employees. This happens through "emotive dissonance" whereby strains develop between what the employee actually feels and what the employee is to portray to the public. The employee may attempt to change the latter, but if the latter is dictated by the employer, the employee may begin to change what they feel to coincide with what the employer wishes.

Such employment situations are also characterized by

rules of mass production. But when the product – the thing to be engineered, mass-produced, and subjected to speed-up and slowdown – is a smile, a mood, a feeling, or a relationship, it comes to belong more to the organization and less to the self. And so in the country that most publicly celebrates the individual, more people privately wonder, without tracing the question to its deepest social root: What do I really feel? (Hochschild, p. 198).

Adam and Sydie note that such management of feeling falls disproportionately on "women … are expected to, and in fact do, manage feeling more than men." (Adams and Sydie, p. 520). Such management is also more common in middle class than working class jobs, with "‘middle class parents preparing their children for emotion management’ and labour more than working class parents do" (Adams and Sydie, p. 520). However, this may be changing somewhat as the structure of the labour market shifts, with more working class jobs being in the service sector and some middle class jobs disappearing.

4. The managed heart

Hochschild’s first study, The Managed Heart, concerned two types of service sector workers – airline flight attendants and bill collectors. In the airline industry, in addition to transporting people, service is what is being sold, with some of the characteristics of this being good service, being on time, safety, friendliness, comfort, and helpfulness. Since airline attendants are the primary employees seen by passengers, airlines take great care to manage their emotions, through selection of appropriate employees and through training programs. For Delta Airlines, the company studied by Hochschild,

The image they chose, among many possible ones, was that of a beautiful and smartly dressed Southern white woman, the supposed epitome of gracious manners and warm personal service … The ads promise servce that is "human" and personal. The omnipresent smile suggests, first of all, that the flight attendant is friendly, helpful and open to requests. But when words are added, the smile can be sexualized … As one flight attendant put it: "You have married men with three kids getting on the plane and suddenly they feel like anything goes. It’s like they leave that reality on the ground, and you fit into their fantasy as some geisha girl. It happens over and over again." (Hochschild, p. 93).

The emotional expressions of the flight attendants are expected to match these images.

Relax and smile, p. 105. Trainees were constantly remineded that their own job security and the company’s profit rode on a smiling face (p. 104). They were told "Really work on your smiles" amd "Relax and smile." A trainee said "It’s incredible how much we have to smile, but there it is. We know that, but we’re still doing it, and you would to."

Passenger’s point of view – bottom, p. 105. Trainees were told "Adopt the passenger’s point of view" with the suggestion that this could be done in the same way as adopting a friend’s point of view. The analogy between home and aircraft cabin also joins the worker to her company; just as she naturally protects members of her own family, she will naturally defend the company.

No ridicule – p. 106. As at home, the guest is protected from ridicule. The flight attendant is not to react normally, perhaps laughing at passengers, but to present an image that will make the guests feel comfortable.

No alarm or fright – p. 107. Attendant is to be protective of the passengers and to ensure that they are not frightened. One attendant said "Even though I am an honest person, I have learned not to allow my face to mirror my alarm or my fright."

Sincerity – p. 108. Sincerity is taken seriously and there was widespread criticism of attendants who did not act "from the heart."

Never blame passengers – p. 108. "Even if it’s their fault, it’s very important that you don’t blame the passengers."

Like home – pp. 106 and 109. It is the flight attendants’s task to convey a sense of relaxed, homey coziness, even though home is safe and home does not crash.

Incident – p. 112. When a plane flipped upside down and dropped 3,000 feet, the airline referred to this as an "incident" and not an accident.

No anger – pp. 113-14. Training programs worked on ways that attendants could reduce anger, trying to put oneself in the position of the other person. For the airline, anger is an unacceptable emotion for attendants to show toward passengers.

Self-sellers – p. 109. Delta encourages attendants to be "self-sellers." This required them to imagine themselves as self-employed. But in fact, they are not selling themselves, they are selling the company they work for.

Once such forms of emotional labour are instilled in the employee through training and working on the job, Hochschild argues that three changes in the emotional life of employees take place. In The Managed Heart, Hochschild argues these are:

a. Emotion Work. This is no longer a private act but becomes a public act. Individuals as employees in these situations no longer determine how their emotions are expressed, based on their own selves and judgments. Instead, those who train and supervise these workers are "paid stage managers who select, train, and supervise others" (p. 119) and those who provide the service become social actors who perform, but in the interests of the firm rather than the self.

b. Feeling Rules. Each of us learns certain rules for managing feelings, rules differing by social class and sex. These are ordinarily very flexible and are expressed in our personal style and personality. In commercial settings, "feeling rules are no longer simply matters of personal discretion, negotiated with another person in private but are spelled out publicly" (p. 119) in training manuals and programs.

c. "Social exchange is forced into narrow channels … there is much less room for individual navigation of the emotional waters" (p. 119).

In doing this, the worker loses a certain amount of control over how the work is done. There are several responses to this. The individual may become a divided self, and then the question is which is the real self. Or the worker may use various coping strategies, using drugs or alcohol, or developing ways of psyching oneself up for the job. Or an employee may making the two selves one through strong identification with the job and company. Hochschild points out how deep acting can become a means of dealing with these situations, whereby employees can separate their own self from the self presented in work, but where they feel comfortable with each (p. 133). But each of these approaches has hazards in it, with the ultimate hazard that the employee may be laid off or fired.

5. Time and family and gender relations

Adams and Sydie (pp. 520-522) discuss Hochschild’s approach to men, women, and family in the context of work and careers. Some writers have highlighted the second shift that women are expected to undertake. That is, in families women are more likely than are men to perform housework and child care – surveys generally show this to be the case, although the male-female gap in hours of household work activity has declined in recent years. This extra household work on the part of females is sometimes referred to as the second shift, after the first shift of a job. Hochschild argues that there is a third shift of emotional work that women disproportionately perform. This refers to attempting to maintain harmony and orderliness in the home, comfort children and spouse, and generally ensure that the home provides a haven from the difficulties of the outside world. Even in job settings, Hochschild notes that women are disproportionately employed in jobs that require emotional work or are expected to be more adept at such work. In The Time Bind, she focuses on the difficulties of shortage of time and conflicts between jobs and family, examining how women and men attempt to construct a self and maintain a family life at the same time that both partners must work at jobs to support themselves and family.

6. Conclusions

Hochschild shows how a symbolic interaction approach can be modified and extended to include emotions and emotional labour. As a microsociological approach is traced from Simmel and Weber through Mead, Blumer, Goffman, and Hochschild, it is apparent that there are developments and insights that broaden the scope of this approach. Many more aspects of social life are considered to be part of the social and society and become part of sociological analysis.

One contribution of Hochschild is to show how symbolic interaction can be used to help explain not only emotions, but also gender relationships and alteration of self by management through commercialization. Since large numbers of jobs today involve emotional labour, Hochschild makes an important contribution to the sociology of work and labour. Adams and Sydie note that "Hochschild makes an important contribution to bridging the micro/macro gap in her studies on the organization of ‘feeling work’ in social institutions" (p. 522).


Adams, Bert N. and R. A. Sydie, Sociological Theory, Thousand Oaks, California, Pine Forge Press, 2001

Hochschild, Arlie Russell, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983

Wallace, Ruth A. and Alison Wolf, Contemporary Sociological Theory: Continuing the Classical Tradition, fourth edition, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1995


Last edited November 15, 2002

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