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, 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.[4]

In a later development, Hochschild distinguished between two broad types of emotion work, and among three techniques of emotion work.[5] 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.[5][6]

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.[7]


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.[8] Arguably, then, an individual's ultimate obeisance and/or resistance to aspects of emotion regimes are made visible in their emotion work.[9]

Cultural norms often imply that emotion work is reserved for females.[10] There is certainly evidence to the effect that the emotional management that women and men do is asymmetric;[11] and that in general, women come into a marriage groomed for the role of emotional manager.[12]


The social theorist, Victor Jeleniewski Seidler, argues that women's emotion work is merely another demonstration of false consciousness under male hegemony, and that emotion work, as a concept, has been adopted, adapted or criticized to such an extent that it is in danger of becoming a "catch-all-cliché".[13]

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 in everyday life.[13]

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.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ferrara, Alessandro (1993), "Rousseau's psychology of the self: C Excursus on authenticity", in Ferrara, Alessandro, Modernity and authenticity: a study in the social and ethical thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Albany: State University of New York, p. 87, ISBN 9780791412367. 
  2. ^ Cook, Alicia; Berger, Peggy (April 2000). "Predictors of emotion work and household labor among dual-earner couples". cyfernet.org. CYFAR Program, University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on 1 May 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  3. ^ Oliker, Stacey J. (1989), "Women friends and marriage work", in Oliker, Stacey J., Best friends and marriage: exchange among women, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 124, ISBN 9780520063921. 
  4. ^ Russell Hochschild, Arlie (November 1979). "Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure". American Journal of Sociology (University of Chicago Press) 85 (3): 551–575. JSTOR 2778583.  Pdf.
  5. ^ a b Russell Hochschild, Arlie (1990), "Ideology and emotion management: a perspective and path for future research", in Kemper, Theodore D., Research agendas in the sociology of emotions, Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 117–144, ISBN 9780585092379.  Preview.
  6. ^ Peterson, Gretchen (2006), "Managing emotions", in Turner, Jonathan H.; Stets, Jan E., Handbook of the sociology of emotions, New York: Springer, p. 125, ISBN 9780387307152. 
  7. ^ Goleman, Daniel (1995), "Aristotle's challenge", in Goleman, Daniel, Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ, New York: Bantam Books, p. xiv, ISBN 9780553375060. 
  8. ^ Ruberg, Willemijn (2010), "Introduction", in Ruberg, Willemijn; Steenbergh, Kristine, Sexed sentiments: interdisciplinary perspectives on gender and emotion, Amsterdam New York: Rodopi, p. 9, ISBN 9789042032415. 
  9. ^ Ruberg, Odette (2010), "Divine providence and resignation: the role of religion in the management of emotions of the Anglo-Irish Countess of Dunraven, Caroline Wydham-Quin (1790-1870)", in Ruberg; Steenbergh, Sexed sentiments: interdisciplinary perspectives on gender and emotion, p. 75. 
  10. ^ Kimmel, Michael S. (2004), "Gendered sexualities", in Kimmel, Michael S., The gendered society, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 237–238, ISBN 9780195149753. 
  11. ^ Oliker (1989), "Women friends and marriage work", in Oliker, Best friends and marriage: exchange among women, p. 144. 
  12. ^ Goleman (1995), "Intimate enemies", in Goleman, Emotional intelligence, p. 132. 
  13. ^ a b Seidler, Victor J. (1998), "Masculinity, violence and emotional life", in Williams, Simon J.; Bendelow, Gillian, Emotions in social life: critical themes and contemporary issues, London New York: Routledge, pp. 209–210, ISBN 9780203437452 
  14. ^ Ferrara (1993), "Beyond the limits of autonomy Rousseau's ethic of authenticity: B The limits of autonomy", in Ferrara, Modernity and authenticity: a study in the social and ethical thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, p. 104. 

Further reading[edit]