COMMODIFICATION OF FEELING
In the beginning I asked how reeling rules might vary in salience across social classes. One possible approach to this question is via the connections among social exchange, commodification of feeling, and the premium, in many middle-class jobs, on the capacity to manage meanings.
Conventionalized feeling may come to assume the properties of a commodity. When deep gestures of exchange enter the market sector and are bought and sold as an aspect of labor power, feelings are commodified. When the manager gives the company his enthusiastic faith, when the airline stewardess gives her passengers her psyched-up but quasi-genuine reassuring warmth, what is sold as an aspect of labor power is deep acting.
But commodification of feeling may not have equal salience for people in evei у social class or occupational sector When I speak of social class, it is not strictly income, education, or occupational status that 1 refer to, but to something roughly correlated to these—the on-the-job task of creating and sustaining appropriate meanings. The bank manager or the IBM executive may be required to sustain a definition of self, office, and organization as ‘‘up-and-coming” or “on the go,” “caring,” or “reliable,” meanings most effectively sustained through acts upon feeling. Feeling rules are of utmost salience in jobs such as these; rule reminders and sanctions are more in play. It is not, as Erich Fromm and C. Wright Mills suggest, that the modern middle-class man “sells” his personality but that many jobs call for an appreciation of display rules, feeling rules, and a capacity for deep acting.
Working-class jobs more often call for the individual’s external behavior and the products of it—a car part assembled, a truck delivered 500 miles away, a road repaired. The creation and the sustaining of meanings go on
of course, but it is not what the boss pays for. Some working – or lower-class jobs do require emotion work—the jobs of prostitute, servant, nanny, and eldercare worker, for example. Such workers are especially important as a source of insight about emotion management. Being less rewarded for their work than their superiors, they are, perhaps, more detached from, and perceptive about it. Just as we can learn more about “appropriate situationfeeling fits” by studying misfits, we can probably understand commodification of feeling better from those who more often have to ask themselves: Is this what I do feel or what I have to feel?
Why, ! asked, do we feel in ways appropriate to die situation as much of the time as we do? One answer is because we try to manage what we feel in accordance with latent rules. In order to elaborate this suggestion I considered first the responsiveness of emotion to acts of management as it is treated in the organismic and interactive account of emotion.
Still, occasionally emotions come over us like an uncontrollable flood. We feel overcome with grief, anger, or joy. Insofar as emotion is, as Darwin suggests, a substitute for action, or action-manque, we may become enraged instead of killing, envious instead of stealing, depressed instead of dying. Or, yet again, emotion can be a prelude to action—and we become so enraged that we kill, so envious that we steal, so depressed that we die. Newspapers
make a business of recording emotions of this sort. But the other half of the human story concerns how people calm down before they kili someone, how people want something but don’t steal it. how people put the bottle of sleeping pills away and call a friend. Just how it is we hold, shape, and—to the extent we can—direct feeling is not what we read about in the newspaper. But it may be the really important news.