Emotion work

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For emotion work sold for a salary, see Emotional labor.

Emotion work is understood as the art of trying to change in degree or quality an emotion or feeling.[1]

It may be defined as the management of one's own feelings or as work done in a conscious effort to maintain the well being of a relationship;[2] though some would reserve the term emotion work for work upon the self alone, as opposed to emotion work on others.[3]


Hochschild[clarification needed], who introduced the term in 1979, distinguished emotion work - unpaid emotional work that a person undertakes in their relationships with family and friends - from emotional labor: emotional work done in a paid work setting.

In a later development. Hochschild (1990) distinguished between two broad types of emotion work, and among three techniques of emotion work. The two broad types involve evocation and suppression of emotion, while the three techniques of emotion work that Hochschild describes are cognitive, bodily and expressive.[4]

However, the concept (if not the term) has been traced back as far as Aristotle: as Aristotle saw, the problem is not with emotionality, but with the appropriateness of emotion and its expression.[5]


Examples of emotion work include showing affection, apologizing after an argument, bringing up problems that need to be addressed in an intimate relationship or any kind of interpersonal relationship, and making sure the household runs smoothly.

Emotion work also involves the orientation of self/others to accord with accepted norms of emotional expression: emotion work is often performed by family members and friends, who put pressure on individuals to conform to emotional norms.[6] Arguably, then, an individual's ultimate obeisance and/or resistance to aspects of emotion regimes are made visible in their emotion work.[7]

Cultural norms often imply that emotion work is reserved for females.[8] There is certainly evidence to the effect that the emotional management that women and men do is asymmetric;[9] and that in general, women come into a marriage groomed for the role of emotional manager.[10]


Radical feminism would tend to claim that women's emotion work is merely another demonstration of their false consciousness under male hegemony, and hardly worth exploration.[11]

More broadly, the concept of emotion work has itself been criticized as a wide over-simplification of mental processes such as repression and denial which continually occur[12] in everyday life.

Literary analogues[edit]

Rousseau in The New Heloise suggests that the attempt to master instrumentally one's affective life always results in a weakening and eventually the fragmentation of one's identity, even if the emotion work is performed at the demand of ethical principles.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alessandro Ferraro, Modernity and Authenticity (1993) p. 87
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ Stacey J. Oliker, Best Friends and Marriage (1989) p. 124
  4. ^ J. E Stets/J. H. Turner, Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions (2007) p. 125
  5. ^ Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (London 1996) p. xiv
  6. ^ W. Ruberg/K. Steenbergh, Sexed Sentiments (2011) p. 9
  7. ^ Ruberg, p. 75
  8. ^ Michael S. Kimmel, The Gendered Society (2004) pp. 237–238
  9. ^ Oliker, p. 144
  10. ^ Goleman, p. 132
  11. ^ G. Bendelow/S. J. Williams, Emotions in Social Life (1998) pp. 209–10
  12. ^ Bendelow, p. 210
  13. ^ Ferrara, p. 104

Further reading[edit]

  • Hochschild, Arlie Russell. "Emotion Work, Feeling Rules and Social Structure.” American Journal of Sociology Vol. 85 No. 3 (1979): 551-575