FEELING AS SUSCEPTIBLE TO PREVENTIVE TACTICS
To consider just how a company or any other organization might benignly intervene in a work situation between the stimulus and the response, we had best start by rethinking what an emotion or a feeling is. Many theorists have seen emotion as a sealed biological event, something that external stimuli can bring on, as cold weather brings on a cold. Furthermore, once emotion—which the psychologist Paul Ekman calls a “biological response syndrome” — is operating, the individual passively undergoes it. Charles Darwin, William James, and the early Freud largely share this “orga – nismic” conception.* But it seems to me a limited view. For if we conceive of emotion as only this, what are we to make of the many ways in which flight attendants in Recurrent Training are taught to attend to stimuli and manage emotion, ways that can actually change feeling?
If we conceive of feeling not as a periodic abdication to biology but as something we do by attending to inner sensation in a given way, by defining situations in a given way, by managing in given ways, then it becomes plainer just how plastic and susceptible to reshaping techniques a feeling can be. The very act of managing emotion can be seen as part of what the emotion becomes. But this idea gets lost if we assume, as the organismic theorists do, that how we manage or express feeling is extrinsic to emotion. The organismic theorists want to explain how emotion is “motored by instinct,” and so they by-pass the question of how we come to assess, label, and manage emotion. (See Appendix A and B.) The
* For a summary of the views of the theorists mentioned in this chapter, see Appendix A.
“interactional” theorists assume, as I do, that culture can impinge on emotion in ways that affect what we point to when we say emotion. Drawing from the organismic and interactional traditions described in Appendix A, I think of emotion as more permeable to cultural influence than organismic theorists have thought, but as more substantial than some interactional theorists have thought. In the view described at the end of Appendix A, emotion is a bodily orientation to an imaginary act (here I draw from Darwin). As such, it has a signal function; it warns us of where we stand vis-a-vis outer or inner events (here I draw on Freud). Finally what does and does not stand out as a “signal” presupposes certain culturally taken-for-granted ways of seeing and holding expectations about the world—an idea developed in Appendix В on the naming of emotions. It would be possible to connect the ideas of this book with entirely different ones about emotion, but my perspective on emotion developed partly out of my research for this book, and to me it offers the best account of how deep institutions can go into an individual’s emotional life while apparently honoring the worker’s right to “privacy.”