The Sociology of Emotions
Why do we laugh. cry. or become angry? Are these emotional expressions biological or social in nature? To some extent. emotions are a biologically given sense (like hearing, smell, and touch), but they are also social in origin. We are socialized to feel certain emotions. and we learn how and when to express (or not express) those emotions (Hochschild, 1983).
How do we know which emotions are appropriate for a given role? Sociologist Arline Hochschild (1983) suggests that we acquire a set offeeling rules that shapes the appropriate emotions for a given role or specific situation. These rules include how, where, when, and with whom an emotion should be expressed. For example, for the role of a mourner at a funeral, feeling rules tell us which emotions are required (sadness and grief, for example), which are acceptable (a sense of relief that the deceased no longer has to suffer), and which are unacceptable (enjoyment of the occasion expressed by laughing Of loud) (see Hochs child, 1983: 63-68)Feeling rules also apply to our occupational roles. For example, the truck driver who handles explosive cargo must be able to suppress fear. Although all jobs place some burden on our feelings, emotional labor occurs only in jobs that require personal contact with the public or the production of a state of mind (such as hope, desire, or fear) in others (Hochschild 1983). With emotional labor. employees must display only certain carefully selected emotions. For example. flight attendants are required to act friendly toward passengers, to be helpful and open to requests. and to maintain an "omnipresent smile" in order to enhance the customers' status. By contrast, bill collectors are encouraged to show anger and make threats to customers, thereby supposedly deflating the customers' status and wearing down their presumed resistance to paying past-due bills. In both jobs, the employees are expected to show feelings that are often not their true ones (HochschiJd, 1983).
Emotional labor may produce feelings of estrangement from one's "true" self. C. Wright Mills (1956) suggested that when we "sell our personality" in the course of selling goods or services, we engage in a seriously self-alienating process. In other words, the "commercialization" of our feelings may dehumanize our work role performance a'nd create alienation and contempt that spill over into other aspects of our life (Hochschild, 1983;Smith and Kleinman, 1989). Do all people experience and express emotions the same way? It is widely believed that women express emotions more readily than men; as a result, very little research has been conducted to determine the accuracy of this belief In fact,women and men may differ more in the way they express their emotions than in their actual feelings. Differences in emotional expression may also be attributed to socialization, for the extent to which men and women have been taught that a given emo- tion is appropriate (or inappropriate) 10 their gender no doubt plays an important part in their perceptions. Social class is also a determinant in managed expression and emotion management Emotional labor is emphasized in middle- and upper-class families, Because middle- and upper-class parents often work whh people, they are more likely to teach their children the importance of emotional labor in their own careers than are working-class parents, who tend to work with things, not people (Hochschild, 1983). Race is alsc an important factor in emotional labor. People of color spend much of their life engaged in emotional labor bee, It'\~racist attitudes and discrimination make it continually necessary to manage one's feelings. Clearly, Hams holds contribution to the sociology of emotions helps us understand the social context of our feelings and the relationship between the roles we play and the emotions we experience. However, her thesis has been criticized for overemphasizing the cost of emotional labor and the emotional controls that exist outside the individual (Wouters, 1989).The context in wl,ich emotions are studied and the specific emotions examined are important factors in determining the costs and benefits of emotional labor.