AFTERWORD TO THE TWENTIETH. ANNIVERSARY EDITION
After The Managed Heart first appeared, I began to receive visits from flight attendants, nurses, and others who did emotional labor for a living and to receive long letters from scholars who wanted to study it. From both, I learned much more about emotional labor than I knew when I wrote the book. Some flight attendants flew in from London, Sydney, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York (flight attendants are a mobile lot). And when I traveled by air myself, some flight attendants caught the name and warmly wrung my hand. Twice I was offered a free bottle of wine. Several times I spoke at union meetings. In all of my contacts with flight attendants, they recounted personal stories of mustering cheer when they were depressed, suppressing fear at danger, and meeting rudeness with good humor. Some said the job wasn’t as bad as I’d said. Mostly they thanked me for giving a name to what they did so much of the day, emotional labor. Much of the anguish I heard was linked to the sheer invisibility of emotional labor. An Australian nurse described, over tea at my house, how galling it felt to give loving care daily to needy dying patients and be ignored by emotionally obtuse surgeons, for whose absence of bedside manner she was quietly making up. “The surgeons take the cancer out,” she explained, “but medically and emotionally, we nurses get the patients through the ordeal. Why can the world see and credit what the doctors do, but not what the nurses do?”
On one television program about the book, the host took me aside afterward to explain that he too had to psyche himself up to be on camera, on the show he’d just hosted. Ludicrously, I was invited to talk on national TV with Miss Manners, the unofficial queen of modern American etiquette, about polite smiling. The TV producers rightly supposed Miss Manners would favor smiling and wrongly supposed I’d oppose it. Trivial and serious, it all went into my researcher’s notebook.
On the scholarly front, I was also gratified to see my ideas applied, refined, and richly developed by other researchers. Scholars studied emotional labor among such employees as social workers, retail sales clerks, Disneyland ride operators, waitresses, receptionists, youth shelter workers, telemarketers, personal trainers, nursing home caregivers, professors, policemen, midwives, door-to-door insurance salesmen, police detectives, hair stylists, and sheriffs interrogators. Pam Smith, a former nurse, wrote a book about emotional labor of nurses, and Jennifer Pierce, a former student of mine, wrote one about the emotional labor of lawyers, paralegals, and secretaries.1
Some of these workers were well-paid professionals, others were part of what Carmen Siriani and Cameron Macdonald call the “emotional proletariat.”2 In their excellent 1999 essay, “Emotional Labor Since The Managed Heart," Ronnie Steinberg and Deborah Figart note the questions various researchers have pursued — how much do we work on our own feelings and how much on those of other people? How natural or managed is our cheerful “Hi there, thanks for shopping Walmart”? Who, emotionally speaking, do we address — the boss, the client, the general public? How can a person sustain loyalty to the company in an era of layoffs, when the company isn’t loyal in return?3 How much does management acknowledge a worker’s emotional labor? Steinberg and Figard discovered one gourmet deli that certainly recognized it in its company mission statement:
Under no circumstances should a customer ever wonder if you are having a bad day. Your troubles should be masked with a smile. Tension can be seen and received negatively resulting in an unhappy dining experience or what is called frustrated food. Once an unhappy or dissatisfied customer walks out the door, they are gone forever” (italics in original).4
Some scholars like Gideon Kunda, in his book, Engineering Culture: Control and Commitment in a High-Tech Corporation, focus on how the company culture of an American firm can help make work so engrossing to its employees. In his book, Emotions at Work: Normative Control, Organizations and Culture in Japan and America, Aviad Raz compares an American with a Japanese company to get at the national cultures they rely on. Raz suggests, for example, that smile training has become a global fad but that the fad itself works very differently in the US and Japan. Japanese managers criticized American managers for settling for spiritless, externally-imposed smiles, Raz notes, and themselves appeal to the workers’ underlying “chi” (spirit). But the Japanese entice this “chi” by evoking guilt or shame. In the Tokyo Dome Corporation, managers placed video cameras behind the cash registers of unfriendly sales clerks and later shamed them by showing the telltale videos to fellow workers. It isn’t just late capitalism that’s at work here, he suggests, but the use capitalism makes of a national culture.
Yet another group of studies have focused on the consequences — burn out, stress, physical collapse — and the recognition and financial compensation given to those who do emotional labor and risk these effects. In a comparable worth study for the State of New York, Ronnie Steinberg and Jerry Jacobs found that jobs that involved “contact with difficult clients” and with the public in general had more than their share of women. But the more “communication with the public” their job required, the less they earned. “Contact with difficult clients” won them no extra pay.5 Another researcher on emotional labor, Rebecca Erickson, appeared as a witness in the House of Representatives on the topic of “Emotional labor, burnout, and the nationwide nursing shortage.”
Researchers such as Marjorie DeVault have explored emotion management in the private side of life — in “passing” among lesbian and gay parents, in keeping up racial pride among people of color, in the maintenance of children’s self esteem by single moms. Others have studied, from this view point, gay Christian support groups, couples in marital counseling, moms trying to foster good dad – child relations, and parents who anxiously aid their children applying to private high schools. One author has written about situations in which emotion work is doomed to fail. Given the growing interest in emotion, a new section of the American Sociological Association formed on the Sociology of Emotion. All of this research offers welcome and promising leads into new fields and much of it deeply enriches our understanding of all the ways we can manage our hearts. As a whole, such studies suggest a vital link between larger social contradictions and private efforts to manage feeling. Perhaps it is not simply emotion which has a signal function for us, as I have argued in this book, but emotion management itself. For acts of extreme emotion management can alert us to contradictions in the wider society which create strains which call for emotional labor in daily life.
Where are these contradictions? At work, at home, and increasingly, I believe, within the realm “in between” home and work. Since The Managed Heart first appeared in 1983, it seems to me that the job scene increasingly has divided in two. On one hand, large parts of the “emotional proletariat” are being automated out. Instead of a face-to-face conversation with a bank teller, more and more of us withdraw money from automatic teller machines. Instead of face-to-face conversations with an airline ticket agent, we buy our tickets on line. In the same way, bridge toll machines, automated gas stations, and now a few grocery store machines are replacing toll takers, gas station attendants, and checkout clerks. We see less of their emotional labor because we see less of them. And we get our “Thank you’s” and “Please come again’s” from the screens of machines.
On the other hand, new service jobs are cropping up at the same or higher occupational levels, jobs in what Nancy Folbre calls the “care sector,” which now makes up 20% of the American labor force. Counted among them are nannies, childcare workers, au pairs who care for the young, and elder care workers and nursing home attendants who care for the old. Added to these traditional care jobs are new jobs which fill the need partly created by the increase in the number of affluent but time-bound working parents.
But something yet more profound has changed as well. Until recently, we could talk about home and work and know that we were talking about one realm or the other. Indeed, most of the research on emotional management has explored either emotion management at work or emotion management at home. But over the last twenty years, a third sector of social life has slowly emerged — which I would call the realm of marketized private life. Those who hold jobs in this sector don’t work on an airplane and often not in an office. And they aren’t engaged in personal relations at home — that of husband to wife, lover to lover, parent to child, grandma to grandchild or friend to friend. They are at work but usually in or near someone else’s home.
Each realm has its own kind of feeling rules. If those in the realm of work follow the feeling rules of a company, and those at home rely on the feeling rules of kin, those in marketized domestic life draw on complex mixes of both work and family cultures.
Nannies, au pairs, and servants have long been considered “part of the family” in upper class homes, even if they did not always feel so. But joining them now in this third realm is what Rochelle Sharpe calls “the mommy industry” — specialists to whom busy working families now outsource family tasks. Some of the jobs they do are more personal than others. In a recent article in Business Week, Michelle Conlin describes some entrepreneurs “eager to respond to the time crunch, creating businesses unimaginable just a few years ago. . . breast feeding consultants, baby-proofing agencies, emergency babysitting services, companies specializing in paying nanny taxes and others that install hidden cameras to spy on babysitters’ behavior. People can hire bill payers, birthday party planners, kiddy taxi services, personal assistants, personal chefs, and, of course, household managers to oversee all the personnel.”6 One ad posted on the Internet includes, in the list of available services, “pet care, motor vehicle registration, holiday decorating, personal gift selection, party planning, night life recommendations, personal/professional correspondence, and credit card charge disputes.” The services of others are implied in the names of the agencies that offer them — Mary Poppins, Wives for Hire (in Hollywood) or Husbands for Rent (in Maine).7 One agency, Jill of All Trades, organizes closets and packs up houses. Clients trust the assistant to sort through their belongings and throw the junk out. As the assistant commented, “People don’t have time to look at their stuff. I know what’s important.”8 A company in Japan actually offers the services of a person who helps someone break off a romantic relationship. And a recent Internet job description read as follows:
Administrative assistant with corporate experience and a Martha Stewart edge to manage a family household… A domestic interest is required and the ability to travel is necessary. Must enjoy kids! This is a unique position requiring both a warm-hearted and business-oriented individual.9
Not only do the qualities called for in the assistant cross the line between market and home, results can cross a more human line as well. As the Business Week reporter, Rochelle Sharpe, describes:
Lynn Corsiglia, a human resources executive in California, remembers the disappointment in her daughter’s eyes when the girl discovered that someone had been hired to help organize her birthday party. “I realized that I blew the boundary,” she says.10
She’d outsourced too much emotional labor.
For a new book I’m working on, I’m now interviewing some incredibly empathic and creative people paid to help families. And they all face the bewildering task of figuring out how, exactly, to feel — like a professional expert, a surrogate sister, or a visiting aunt? And if a sister, in the spirit of what national or religious culture? In traditional workplaces, the mission statement or personnel manual or boss implicitly tell you how to feel. At home, your kin do. But in the marketized domestic realm, the answers are up for grabs.11
On the fringe of this third sector of marketized domesticity, we find jobs which are a commercial extension not of mother but of wife. The reader may find this ad as haunting as do I. Appearing on the Internet on 6 March 2001 was the following:
(p/t) Beautiful, smart, hostess, good masseuse — $400/week. Hi there.
This is a strange job opening, and I feel silly posting it, but this is San Francisco, and I do have the need! This will be a very confidential search process.
I’m a mild-mannered millionaire businessman, intelligent, traveled, but shy, who is new to the area, and extremely inundated with invitations to parties, gatherings and social events. I’m looking to find as a “personal assistant,” of sorts. The job description would include, but not be limited to:
1. Being hostess to parties at my home ($40/hour)
2. Providing me with a soothing and sensual massage ($140/hour)
3. Coming to certain social events with me ($40/hour)
4. Traveling with me ($300 per day + all travel expenses)
5. Managing some of my home affairs (utilities, bill-paying, etc., $30/hour)
You must be between 22 and 32, in-shape, good-looking, articulate, sensual, attentive, bright and able to keep confidences. I don’t expect more than 3 to 4 events a month, and up to 10 hours a week on massage, chores and other miscellaneous items, at the most. You must be unmarried, UNattached, or have a very understanding partner!
I’m a bright, intelligent 30-year old man, and I’m happy to discuss the reasons for my placing this ad with you on response of your email application. If you can, please include a picture of yourself, or a description of your likes, interests, and your ability to do the job.
NO professional escorts please! NO Sex involved!
What feeling rules might apply to interactions between the shy millionaire and a potential applicant for this job as personal assistant? The role of pleasant wife is here splintered into pieces, a price tag attached to each, and so the feeling rules are ambiguous. The man is not offering to be a husband, of course; money is his side of the deal. But tacitly overhanging the ad is the suggestion of a powerful fantasy of something he expects of a sexual and emotional nature.
When I talked over this ad with some of my students at the University of California, Berkeley, one remarked that the man “wants to buy his way out of the grunt labor of a relationship.” What did he mean? Perhaps that the shy millionaire didn’t want to have to follow family feeling rules. He didn’t want to do emotional labor. He just wanted the results. And in holding out hopes of this, he is, perhaps, entertaining another fantasy — that he can altogether buy someone else’s emotional labor. And herein may lie a growing social contradiction.
For human beings have strong emotional — and in this case perhaps also sexual — needs over which commerce is a thin veil. So the shy millionaire may well be faced with the emotional task of keeping himself as detached from this personal assistant as he now supposes he can easily remain. And the assistant may have to manage some combination of pity, disdain, and attraction. And this relationship will be one of many in this growing realm of marketized private life. And how, in this realm, do we manage our attachments to — and detachments from — one another? What do we feel? I don’t know yet. But stay tuned.