The Managed Heart | Arlie Russell Hochschild

Summary of: The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling
By: Arlie Russell Hochschild


The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling’ by Arlie Russell Hochschild explores the concept of emotional labor in everyday life, giving insights into how individuals regulate their feelings in various professional and social scenarios. Sociologists refer to this practice as emotional labor, which involves conscious control over our emotions to suit the circumstances. This summary will delve into the experiences of flight attendants and actors as classic examples of emotional labor, and further discuss the rules governing our emotions, emotional exchanges as currency, the unique burdens faced by women, and the impact of emotional labor on women’s experiences in the workplace.

The Unseen Emotional Labor

In many careers, employees are expected to manage their emotions consciously to maintain an appropriate demeanor called “emotional labor.” Flight attendants are trained to provide service with a genuine smile and small talk, luring passengers to prefer their airline services. However, emotional labor is not unique to the airlines industry; it is prevalent in society. Emotional labor goes beyond acting or painting on a smile; it extends to the conscious management of emotions to fit social or commercial situations. Emotional labor often goes unnoticed, but without it, service provision becomes lackluster. Actors execute emotional labor to advance their art, but in the airline industry, corporations enforce emotional labor policies to make a profit.

The Significance of Our Emotions

Our emotions are powerful signals that reveal what the people and things in our lives mean to us. However, there are rules for which emotions we should have and when. This disconnect between how we feel and how we should feel shows that emotional labor and social rules regarding feelings play central roles in our lives. The appropriate display of emotions is necessary to avoid scolding or being shunned by others. Thus, our feelings are subjected to interpersonal exchange.

The Currency of Feelings

The exchange of emotional labor is a significant yet often unnoticed aspect of our daily interactions. The concept is explored through a workplace example, where an intern compensates for an expert’s time and wisdom by offering gratitude and compliments. However, as the exchange continues, the cost of emotional compensation increases, placing more pressure on the intern. Those in positions of power benefit from this exchange of emotional labor, while those with little power are forced to comply. The exchange of feelings is not innate but rather a product of societal norms. By recognizing the true cost of emotional labor, we can begin to shift this power dynamic and create more equitable relationships.

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