WORKING ON FEELING
Why is the emotive experience of normal adults in daily life as orderly as it is? Why, generally speaking, do people feel gay at parties, sad at funerals, happy at weddings? This question leads us to examine not conventions of appearance or outward comportment, but conventions oi feeling. Conventions of feeling become surprising only when we imagine, by contrast, what totally unpatterned, unpredictable emotive life might actually be like at parties, funerals, weddings, and in all of normal adult life. Indeed, when novelists set out to create poignant scenes they evoke the full weight of a feeling rule. In Lie Down in Darkness, for example, William Styron describes a confused and desperately unhappy bride on the “happy” day of her wedding:
When she spoke the vows her lips parted not like all the brides he’d ever seen—exposing their clean, scrubbed teeth in a little eager puff of rapture— but rather with a kind of wry and somber resignation. It had been a brief shadow of a mood, just a flicker, but enough for him to tell her “I will” had seemed less an avowal than a confession, like the tired words of some sad, errant nun. Not any of her put-on gaiety could disguise this.1
Against the chaotic flow of feeling that emerges from real relationships are more abiding (though also changeable) rules of feeling. In a culture of freely chosen love matches, the bride should feel like saying “I will" with an “eager puff of rapture.”
But what, then, is a feeling or emotion? I define “emotion" as bodily cooperation with an image, a thought, a memory’—a cooperation of which the individual is usually aware. I will use the terms “emotion" and “feeling" interchangeably, although the term “emotion" denotes a state of being overcome that “feeling" does not. The term “emotion management” I use synonymously with “emotion work” and “deep acting.”
What happens to these emotions? Erving Goffman suggests both the surprise to be explained and part of the explanation: “We find that participants will hold in check certain psychological states and attitudes, for af ter all, the very general rule that one enter into the prevailing mood in die encounter carries the understanding that contradictory feelings will be in abeyance… .
So generally, in fact, does one suppress unsuitable affect, that we need to look at offenses to this rule to be reminded of its usual opera tion.”-
The key—and curiously bureaucratic—word here is “unsuitable." In light of the passage from William Styron above, we could also add “disturbing” or even, in the emotional sense, “dangerous.” “So why is she at the altar at all? And why in this way?” we ask. And, from the viewpoint of the guests and surely the groom, what is wrong with how—beneath the put-on gaiety—she is really feeling? This very line of questioning suggests that we have in mind a right way for her to feel. How are we to understand such a thing?
We can take two possible approaches. One is to study the situation that would seem to cause her to feel as she does. The other is to study secondary acts performed upon the ongoing nonreflective stream of primary emotive experience, that is, how she is or isn’t trying to alter her state of feeling. The first approach focuses on how social factors affect what people feel, the second on how social factors affect what people think and do about what they feel or sense they are going to feel (i. e., acts ol assessment and management). Those who take the first approach might regard those who take the second as being “overly cognitive,” while those who take the second approach see the “stimulate primary emotions” people as simplistic. But we need both approaches, and indeed the second, taken here, relies on some understanding of the first.3
If we take as our object of focus what it is people think or do about feelings, several questions emerge. What is an emotion? How responsive is emotion to deliberate attempts to suppress or evoke it? What are the links among social structure, ideology, feeling rules, and emotion management? To begin with, are there feeling rules? How do we know about them? How are these rules used as baselines in social exchanges? What in the nature of work and childrearing might account for different ways adults of varying social classes and ethnic or religious cultures manage their feelings?