Love for Sale: The Sociology of Emotion 

A conversation with Arlie Hochschild, who argues that many of our "private" emotional problems result from social and economic forces.

In our private lives we are frequently required to work hard to make ourselves feel what we want to feel, or believe we are supposed to feel: we give ourselves pep talks when we are depressed; we talk ourselves out of falling in love; we decide to let go and grieve over a loss; we work at liking our in-laws; we choose to have fun at a party. And at ceremonial occasions we adjust our moods as necessary. Functioning tolerably in the world requires an array of interior maneuvers sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls "emotion work." Hochschild--whose 1983 book The Managed Heart established her as a leading figure in a burgeoning new field that has been called "the sociology of emotion"--argues that our feelings must at times be understood sociologically if we are to make sense of ourselves, especially since emotion work is now often required in our public as well as our private lives.

In the 20th century, she points out, something new and disturbing has happened in the world of work. As automation has taken over the task of producing goods, more and more people work at jobs in which a service is provided to a public. Workers in such jobs are often required to induce or suppress feeling in order to create the desired emotional state in those being serviced. This relatively new kind of labor--emotional labor--now predominates in a third of all jobs, and fully half of those are held by women. Work increasingly demands that workers make themselves feel something for someone else: a waitress affects charm and pleasantness around harassing customers; a therapist tries to project compassion toward an irritating client; a nurse contrives sympathy for an obnoxious patient; a jaded teacher fakes enthusiasm for her students; a salesman expresses the same "heartfelt" sincerity many times a day; a receptionist creates a pleasant emotional tone in a harried office environment. Artless, untutored feeling has become rare, and so is regarded as precious.

Hochschild's book The Unexpected Community examined life in a community for the aged in San Pablo, California, and argued against the widely held view that social disengagement was both normal and desirable among the aged. She followed this with a slew of articles, many of which dealt with issues of women and gender. The Managed Heart received the Charles Horton Cooley award and was named one of the notable books of the year by the New York Times. Since 1971 Hochschild has taught at the University of California in Berkeley, where she has won a distinguished teaching award; she has also received a four-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health and a Guggenheim fellowship.

She recently published The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, a book that explores the problems of two-paycheck families. Feminist writer Barbara Ehrenreich has called it the "most brilliant and psychologically acute study of contemporary marriage" that has been written.

Hochschild, at 49, is a tall, brisk woman who exudes an impressive generosity of spirit. We met recently to talk about the sociology of emotion, the changing nature of work, and her new book.

Timothy Beneke: How did you get interested in the management of feeling?

Arlie Hochschild: I think I originally got interested in emotion work because I grew up in a family of diplomats. When I was a teenager, my father became a U.S. representative to Israel, Tunis, and New Zealand. It was his job to represent official policy to other countries. I was the kid who passed the peanuts around and watched the changing expressions on people's faces. When everyone left, my parents would diagnose each little gesture: "Well, the Bulgarian ambassador was cool today. Did you notice he didn't greet the French emissary?" Everybody was busy interpreting each other. It made me think that no one was expressing what they really felt. I began to wonder about all this as a child, and as an adolescent developed enormous political differences with my father. He was representing something called the "free world"; I would say, "What do you mean the 'free world'? South Africa? Franco's Spain? Is Chile the 'free world'?" And he would basically say yes and no. And I never really knew if he meant what he said. I sensed that he was a very decent person but representing a government doing bad things.

It was very important to me to sort out how much he was working on himself to make himself feel what his job required him to feel. I didn't know whether to believe he felt what he said he felt. You could say I spent my adolescence trying to figure this out.

It was the 50s, and it was his job to defend the "free world." Now as an adult looking back on those years, I can see he had a conflict. On the one hand, he was liberal. On the other hand, to do his job he had to defend a not-so-liberal foreign policy. And he had to manage this conflict privately. As a teenager struggling to establish my own political values, I was always digging at him to find out what he "really believed." At 16 I scared him by joining the socialist party of New Zealand, where we lived for two years. After he retired and until he died this March, his liberalism came out very strongly. It was probably through struggling to understand my father that I got interested in how people manage feelings.

A personal conflict of a different sort may also have led me to this interest. On the one hand, I was brought up to be polite and "diplomatic," and as a girl I have wanted to please people. On the other hand, I value honesty--both with others and with myself. I'm still trying to reconcile the two.

TB: Have you resigned yourself to a certain dishonesty?

AH: If you mean the little pleasantries of life, sure. Like if someone says, "How are you?" and I say "fine" when I'm not fine but the relationship doesn't call for getting into that, sure. Conventions like that don't imply any promise of real honesty. But if you mean honesty in basic issues--honesty with oneself and with others--no, I haven't resigned myself to dishonesty. No way. Anyone trying to live the examined life is going to keep asking themselves, "Am I daring to take the hard look at the truth of things? Or am I fooling myself?" The Managed Heart is about how organizations get into the act of helping us fool others and sometimes ourselves.

TB: But you think it's difficult for us not to fool ourselves.

AH: Yes, I think self-honesty is hard to achieve. Much of our daily life in private--and now our work life--requires us to try to feel what we ought to feel. It's very clear we do this in private life. For example, someone at a funeral may not be feeling longing and grief, and may have to muster these feelings. Or you may be depressed an hour before a party, but you go and psych yourself up, and pretty soon you're actually lighthearted. Emotion work can actually work.

TB: There's a passage in Kierkegaard's journal in which he describes going to a party where he dazzled everyone with his wit and intellect, made everyone laugh at will, and then came home and wanted to kill himself.

AH: The party had been a holding operation. I would take an example like that and look at the party in a new light. What was he doing to make himself feel enhanced, elated, central? I think we're pushing and pulling at our feelings all the time without quite knowing it.

I don't, by the way, think that it's bad to do this. It's often a contribution we make to other people. When you come down in the morning and say, "Good morning!" even when you're not feeling well, I don't think that's bad. I don't think it's better to say, "Oh shit, what a hell of a day!" There's a kind of housekeeping of the emotions that is important. Just as one wants to live in an enjoyable physical environment, we all have to make contributions to live in a good emotional environment. At the same time, in making this contribution, a certain amount of honesty can be lost.

TB: It's important to have a certain commitment to the social.

AH: If it's done out of love and it's not coerced, it's fine.

TB: There's been a rather adolescent rebellious strain in American culture that's made almost a fetish out of authenticity and spontaneous feeling, as if there's some injury to the self if you engage in social niceties.

AH: I think it's a mistake not to see the value of emotion work done in the service of courtesy and civility.

TB: How do we do emotion work?

There are basically two kinds: "deep acting" and "surface acting." Deep acting is changing feelings from the inside out--conjuring up images or ideas in order to try to inwardly induce in ourselves the feelings we want to feel and which show on our face.

Surface acting is changing feelings from the outside in--consciously altering one's outer expression in order to help induce the corresponding inner feelings. We put on a happy face in order to try to feel happy. Or whistle in the dark to take away the fear.

There are several kinds of deep acting. Evoking images or fantasies that alter feeling is one. Another is verbally repeating messages to ourselves. "I'm going to relax and enjoy myself. I'm going to be happy today." A third kind of deep acting is physically prompting ourselves--taking a deep breath, for example, or changing your posture, or loosening your muscles or closing your eyes.

TB: I wonder to what extent it's reasonable to expect to always know what we feel. One useful principle seems to be: when it's very much in our self-interest to feel something, it can be hard to know whether we feel it because it's to our advantage to feel it, or because we "really" feel it. One extreme example that makes the point would be a prisoner who can get out of prison sooner if he can convince a prison psychologist he feels genuine remorse for what he's done. It's so overwhelmingly in his interest to feel remorse that I question to what extent he himself could be capable of knowing what he feels.

Or take politicians. Their so-called hypocrisy may result to a degree from the binds they're constantly in. It's often in their self-interest to care about, or appear to care about, certain issues. That makes it hard to discern their own feelings and motives.

AH: Maybe we can't know for sure if we're fooling ourselves, but we should always ask ourselves if that's what we're doing. Actually, I think we're all politicians. It's often in our self-interest to feel one thing instead of another. Politics is a kind of paradigm, especially for what people in the growing service sector face at work. In The Managed Heart I took the case of flight attendants, whose job it is to be nicer than natural. A flight attendant's job is to deliver a service and create further demand for the service and to enhance the status of the customer. At the other extreme, a bill collector has to collect on money owed and has to deflate the status of customers and, if necessary, be nastier than natural. Most jobs that call for emotional labor fall between these two poles.

The company trains the flight attendants to look into the eyes of a customer and see the eyes of a sister and feel genuine friendliness and warmth. If she doesn't do that she may get an "onion letter" criticizing her. If she is friendly she may get an "orchid letter" full of praise. So her supervisor supervises her emotional labor.

I argue that fewer and fewer people are doing physical labor, while more and more are involved with emotional labor delivering services. Think about it: the relationship between a client and a social worker, a teacher and a student, a secretary and a client, a businessperson and a client, a therapist and a client, a salesperson and a customer, a flight attendant and a passenger. In each of these relationships--whether they last five minutes or half an hour, or a year and a half--there is a sustaining of a relationship, a mood, an emotional exchange. I'm interested in how people tug and pull to keep the emotional atmosphere at the temperature corporations set.

A receptionist may answer the phone, "Good morning, Kemper Insurance," in a certain way and put in her voice a certain cheer. It can't be too heartfelt, otherwise it'll seem false. It has to appear real. My argument is that in order to appear real, it's easiest if it actually is real.

TB: You mean, is experienced as real?

AH: Well, that's where the question marks begin! Is it real or not? That's what I have wanted to know. How "for real" are we when we are being good in this way?

TB: And being paid.

AH: And being paid, and trained, and supervised.

TB: There's a wonderful page in your book where you contrast two signs, one in the back of an Italian restaurant that reminds the waitresses to "Keep smiling," the other in a bill collector's office that says "Create alarm."

AH: The signs constitute feeling rules that are engineered from on high.

TB: Lots of people have a vague awareness of doing emotional labor at their jobs. People suffer burnout and confusion and alienation as a result and often don't know why. What advice do you have for people who earn money in part through conjuring feeling?

AH: My first advice is to train your attention on the fact that you are doing it, so that you know when you're doing it, just so that you're clear with yourself. It's important to have that self-knowledge. That's the first thing.

The second thing is not to be harsh on yourself for conjuring up emotions. As I said, I don't think emotion work is necessarily bad or self-estranging.

TB: When isn't it self-estranging?

AH: When we know when we're doing it, and we know the purposes for which we're doing it. And when we feel OK about those purposes. An actor, for example, does emotion work, and it isn't self-estranging; in fact it can be his or her finest hour. It's given and received as a public offering.

What makes emotion work harmful, in my view, is when we don't know when we're doing it, and it's being orchestrated from on high, and the purposes are not ones we share. Take Delta Airlines, which I studied closely, for instance. Delta had its own agenda, which was to use the image of white southern womanhood to create a market, and thus to produce more money for Delta. Most of the women who worked as stewardesses there didn't realize that. They didn't realize that they were being told, in so many words, how to feel. There were some stewardesses who knew exactly what they were doing for Delta. I think it's OK if you see the whole picture and can play a certain role.

TB: But most workers who do emotional labor are mystified about it?

AH: They can be, and often they come home with two kinds of symptoms that don't connect to their jobs. One is a feeling of going numb. Workers who go numb usually aren't good at emotion work; they don't know how to do it well. The solution is, ironically, to learn to do it well. For example, a Delta flight attendant may deal with 50 customers and personalize her relationship to each of them. She genuinely tries to reach out to them. The 51st customer pinches her or verbally abuses her. If she's really good at emotion work she can quickly depersonalize the gesture. She says to herself, "The guy's got a problem. It's Delta he's angry at, not me." And then with the 52nd person, she's reaching out again. She's agile, she can personalize and depersonalize, personalize and depersonalize according to the oncoming reality she has to cope with.

TB: That sounds like very hard work.

AH: It is hard work. But it's like playing the violin: you can be good at it, and practice can help. Flight attendants who go numb generally have a hard time personalizing and depersonalizing. My advice to someone who's gone numb is to go through some kind of recovery--get away for a while and try to cultivate an awareness of what it is you're doing. This is one of those instances in life where knowledge actually helps.

The other price workers pay comes from doing emotion work too well. They have you either way. If you do it too well you can feel false and that you've fooled everyone. There I would say to workers: don't interpret the falseness you have developed as a personal flaw. It's not a personal flaw. It's an occupational hazard. It's what your work has required you to develop. I heard many flight attendants say, "I'm not like Suzy. She says, 'Coffee, tea, or me.' She's so false." And they would give lots of examples of falseness in other flight attendants who were often close by. When I kept hearing it, I thought, "What's going on? This issue of falseness is very salient to them." And I began to see it as an occupational hazard. It's just like the word processor who gets cataracts on her eyes because she's looking at the screen for too many hours. Going numb, feeling estranged from your own emotional display, is every bit as much an occupational hazard as that.

I should add something. We can also be more or less susceptible to the damage of too much emotion work. The flight attendants who I felt were most harmed tended to be very young, new on the job, and just out of high school. They really didn't know who they were to begin with. The older and more mature we are, the less vulnerable we are to this occupational hazard.

What's poignant to me is that we have an increasing number of jobs that require a set of feeling rules and emotional labor which throw the authenticity of feeling into question. In response to that, people go into therapy to try to recover their feelings. And when they do that they're going into another business. In a way, they are going from the frying pan into the fire. First there's the social production of alienation. Then there's a whole industry to de-alienate us. Don't misunderstand me: I'm all for therapy. I just want to live in a society that doesn't take my feelings away from me and doesn't require a whole industry to help me get them back.

TB: It seems to me that your work is a useful corrective against the tendency on the part of Americans to privatize their problems. People desperately need to see that these feelings of falseness and numbness and alienation aren't personal hang-ups but social and political problems. You seem to be extending Marx's ideas about commodification. Now it's our emotions that get bought and sold.

AH: The Managed Heart is an update of Marx's theory of alienation. What it adds is, now that automation is doing the physical labor Marx wrote about, we have to look for the signs of alienation in a different place, in the relationship between us and our hearts. Our hearts have now become the locus of labor.

It's unclear whether the amount of emotional labor is increasing at this point in history or not. Automation is beginning to take over some of the emotion work people have been doing.

TB: Let's shift focus. It seems that a certain kind of emotion work is essential to masculinity, at least as it's traditionally conceived. Manhood is taken to be something that must be demonstrated and proved--you're only as masculine as your last demonstration. And the way you prove it is by taking distress "like a man," i.e., without losing competence or showing "weak" emotions like sadness or fear or anxiety. Almost any source of distress can be related to by men as an occasion for proving manhood, any challenge or competition, or any situation that might cause fear or grief.

Take the television commercial for the Army in which a soldier is waiting to jump out of an airplane. We hear a voice-over of him writing to his father, telling him that he would have been proud of him today. The soldier remembers what his father told him: "Being a man means putting your fear aside and doing your job."

And there's a wonderful quote from Norman Mailer. Writing about Muhammad Ali, who had just been beaten by Joe Frazier--beaten but not knocked out--he says: "Ali had shown America what we all had hoped was secretly true. He was a man. He could bear moral and physical torture, and he could stand."

We presumably weren't sure Ali was a man because he'd never been sufficiently tested. And the test was doing the emotion work of taking distress, "moral and physical torture," and remaining competent.

AH: So if it was too easy for Ali before, he couldn't prove his manhood. He won the manhood battle because he did deep acting on his fear.

TB: Right.

AH: Those are wonderful examples. They speak to something very basic in American culture. Manhood operates according to a set of feeling rules: don't feel fear, don't feel grief, don't feel sad, don't feel guilty. These are the feeling rules of the warrior. You can look at the military as an organization that engineers and enforces and supervises manhood feeling rules. In the military soldiers are ridiculed by being called "girls." If you turn it around, women are rarely ridiculed by being called "men." Through repetition and routine and drill, certain feeling rules are enforced.

TB: And by enforcing certain postures, men are kept from feeling certain things. There's an attempt to create a certain body armor so that men don't feel fear. It's very difficult to experience fear if you walk around with your chest sticking out all the time.

AH: The emotion work that's done in the Army is a model for other parts of the culture. The corporation is to a degree an extension of the same moral logic found in the Army. Certainly team sports are modeled on the military, and corporations borrow their metaphors from sports.

There's a quote in my book from a football player. It's one of my favorite quotes: "I was a star halfback in high school. But in my senior year before games I didn't feel the surge of adrenaline--in a word I wasn't 'psyched up.' This was due to emotional difficulties I was experiencing at the time and still experience. Also I had been an A student, but my grades were dropping. Because in the past I had been a fanatical, emotional, intense player--a 'hitter,' recognized by coaches as a hard worker and a player with 'desire'--this was very upsetting. I did everything I could do to get myself 'up.' I tried to be outwardly rah-rah, I tried to get myself scared of my opponents--anything to get the adrenaline flowing. I tried to look nervous and intense before games, so at least the coaches wouldn't catch on . . . when actually I was mostly bored, or in any event not 'up.' Before one game I remember wishing I was in the stands watching my cousin play for his school."

I find this so moving. He's experiencing such estrangement from manhood and trying to lift off his "game face"--and pull it off his face and keep it off. And he's naming every pressure that's keeping it on.

TB: Tell me about your new book.

AH: It's called The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. I interviewed 50 two-paycheck couples with children, and observed in a dozen homes. I tried to examine strains on families that were regarded as private problems but that were really created by social and economic forces beyond any one family's control. I've tried to show how the economy points a finger at men and women at different times and in different ways, creating an uneven rate of change in men and women.

In The Second Shift I've argued that in the 19th century men were being pulled off the farm into wage labor. So men, from the 1860s on, were more different from their fathers than women were from their mothers. The economic arrow was pointing at men as they went through a psychological and social orientation to factory work. At that point it was men who were trying to "have it all." They would often work a full day at the factory and come home and bring in the crops. They were trying to synthesize an industrial and agrarian way of life. Men tended to use women to symbolize their tie to the past. They may have lost the farm and an old way of life, but at least their wife represented how things had been.

In the 20th century the economic arrow points at women. With the growth of the service sector, with inflation eating away at male wages, and the erosion of male jobs, women are being forced into wage labor. It's now women who are more likely to be different from their mothers than men are from their fathers. There's an uneven rate of ideological and psychological change between men and women. And the family becomes the shock absorber of this uneven rate of change. When women have changed, it's been much more destabilizing than when men have changed. It has tended to marginalize family life.

TB: And so much is already breaking up family life. The extended family has been hurt by job mobility, the retreat to the suburbs, and the loss of faith in marriage. And now women are entering the work force.

AH: Now with women forced into wage labor there is no symbol to connect them to the past. It has been more destabilizing this time around. I saw a good deal of strain in these young families. Couples would often talk about the poor communication or how selfish the other person was, but I sometimes felt they were personalizing a larger social dilemma.

I looked at the kinds of emotion work men and women did in the course of trying to be the kind of man or woman they wanted to be. Generally, working-class women didn't want to be working. I remember a day-care worker who said in effect that she wasn't working to discover herself, she wanted to pay her grocery bills. She had absolutely no use for the women's movement; she got shoved into the work force and wanted to be a "cookies and milk" mother at home. She did not want to love her work.

But, as a matter of fact, if you listened to her, she did. She spoke with great interest and empathy about each of the little children she took care of. At the same time she was trying to detach herself from her love of her work. I want to capture the emotional moment when she's trying to live up to her gender code under circumstances that make it hard to do.

At the other extreme are egalitarian women who want to love their work but sometimes hate it and feel estranged from it. Some women felt more guilty than they thought they should in leaving their children at day care. Other women felt less guilty. There's a certain "guilt norm" that's come to exist now. Working Mother magazine even has a "guilt column." You're supposed to feel guilty.

I think by institutionalizing guilt like that, you distance women from the real guilt they may feel. By standardizing it, guilt is made into a normal thing. Working Woman magazine is telling women to feel fine about feeling guilty; it's normal to feel bad. They're normalizing a disturbance, and I'm disturbed by that normalization. I'm haunted by it. It seems to me that if you're feeling guilty you should listen to that feeling because something bad may be going on. We need flexible working arrangements that allow us to feel great about going to work.

On the other side of the gender divide, I saw men striving to live up to their gender ideals. There were men who had small children who devoted almost all of their energies to work. They would come home, say a cursory hello to the kids, and reach for a beer and sit in front of the TV set. I wanted to explore what kind of emotion work it takes to be that kind of father. Often such men avoided the topic of their children. The whole interview would go by and little would be said about them. They often lived with the fantasy that their wives were taking care of it all. But when I looked closely, that was not what was going on. Sometimes the mothers were mothering lightly. It seemed to me that the men in such families were working hard repressing their feelings for their children.

Among the couples I interviewed, one of the main magnets of attention was the issue of who does the "second shift," the housework and the child rearing. I looked at what I called "economies of gratitude." The real strains on families had less to do with who did the housework or who looked after the kids than with who got credit for it. In families that were working well there was a fluid, rich exchange of gratitude. People spontaneously spoke of feeling grateful and, in turn, felt thanked for what they did. In families that were suffering, thanks became scarce--and I became interested in tracing out the causes for this scarcity.

Part of the problem is that if you have different gender ideologies, you have different definitions of what a gift is. In the overwhelming number of families I studied, the gift women wanted was male participation at home, and the gift men wanted to give was greater economic success. It was this misunderstanding about what constituted a gift that was leading to these impoverished economies of gratitude.

TB: Is there an implicit assumption among men or women that if the man is making more money, he should do less work around the house and with the kids?

AH: I was very curious about just that and began my study presuming that money talks. But I found a more complex picture. Money talks, but gender also talks. What I found was that men who outearned their wives indeed did do less work at home; they converted a wage gap into a leisure gap.

But men who earned much less than their wives did not do more at home. Women could not trade in their higher wages for leisure at home. So money talks for men but not for women. What talks for women is gender and the logic of balancing. Basically, men held the edge in the following way: if a man's wife earns more than he, he feels he's lost his masculine role and his wife makes up for it by doing the housework.

TB: I remember a study that found that a man whose wife outearned him was 11 times as likely to commit suicide than if the situation were reversed. Is there any evidence that men are beginning to do more of the housework?

AH: A study at the University of Michigan compared men in the early 70s with men in the early 80s. Husbands of working wives did 20 percent in the 70s and 30 percent in the 80s. That's significant. There's reason to have hope.

In the end I wanted to count the emotional costs when women go to work full-time but men do not share the work of raising a family. The main emotional cost, I concluded, was that women could not afford the luxury of unambivalent love for their husbands.

TB: That's an observation which should send a chill through people.

AH: It sent a chill through me. I found that women learned to live with the burden of resentment because men were not sharing the burden at home. I also found women reluctant to push men to do more work at home. They had a wish to do so, but were afraid to destabilize their marriages in an age of divorce. So they lived with a certain discontent and resentment about sharing the work at home. And from where I sit, this is a tremendously unfortunate and ultimately unnecessary price to pay.

TB: I take it this resentment will manifest itself in the most deeply personal way in their relationships with their husbands?

AH: Men do not escape this at all. Most of the men I spoke with thought the issue of combining paid and unpaid labor was a problem for their wives. They often said, "My wife will be very interested in your study." She's interested in it; it's her problem. She has to organize how to put together her workday with her housework. Women are absorbing for men an inherent contradiction between the logic of work and the demands of the family. But I see changes coming.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tom Gibbons.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Timothy Beneke

  • Is Psychiatry Going Insane?

    A Conversation With Neurologist John Friedberg Who Warns That the New Psychiatry Is More Quackery Than Science
    • Apr 30, 1992
  • Food for Thought

    Time is money. Love is sickness. Baseball is death. And metaphor is reality: A conversation with linguist George Lakoff.
    • Mar 1, 1990
  • The Case Against Therapy

    A Conversation With Dissdent Freud Scholar Jeffrey Masson
    • Dec 1, 1988
  • More »

Agenda Teaser

Galleries & Museums
The Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery Water Tower Place
June 16
Galleries & Museums
Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera Northwestern University Block Museum of Art
September 17

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories

Follow Us

Sign up for newsletters »

 Early Warnings
 Food & Drink
 Reader Recommends
 Reader Events and Offers