Element Compared

Main means of social control

Positional Control System

Manipulation of incentives and social coercion

Personal Control System

Persuasion and manipulation of incentives

Aim of social control


Feelings, thoughts, and intentions

Psychological habits developed

Learn obedience in behavior and outward action. Emotion work less necessary

Learn to be subject to persuasion, learn to persuade self and others, learn emotion work


Stresses outward behavioral conformity

Progressive, stresses own feelings and intentions

Occupation calls for

Behavior, action and its products

The management of meanings and feelings; with role closeness or role distance

Social class

Traditional working class (both men and women) and technical sector of middle class

Upper and middle class (mainly men); new working class (mainly women)


[1] For stylistic convenience, I shall use the pronoun “she” when referring to a flight attendant, except when a specific male flight attendant is being discussed. Otherwise I shall try to avoid verbally excluding either gender.

[2] I use the term emotional labor to mean the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value. I use the synonymous terms emotion work or emotion management to refer to these same acts done in a private context where they have use value.

[3] We may misinterpret an event, feel accordingly, and then draw false conclu­sions from what we feel. (We sometimes call this neurosis.) We can handle this by applying a secondary framework that corrects habits of feeling and inference, as when we say “I know I have a tendency to interpret certain gestures as rejections.” But feeling is the essential clue that a certain viewpoint, even though it may need frequent adjustment, is alive and well.

t A black person may see the deprivations of the ghetto more accurately, more “rationally,” through indignation and anger than through obedience or resigned “realism.” He will focus clearly on the policeman’s bloodied club, the landlord’s Cadillac, the look of disapproval on the employment agent’s white face. Outside of anger, these images become like boulders on a mountainside, minuscule parts of the landscape. Likewise, a chronically morose person who falls in love may suddenly see the world as happier people do.

[4] It is not only in the world of commerce that we automatically assume insin­cerity. Political reporters regularly state not only what an officeholder or candidate wants to seem to feel but also how well he or she succeeds in the effort to convey that feeling. Readers, it is assumed, demand at least this much unveiling.

[5] In An Actor Prepares, Stanislavski points out an apparent contradiction: “We are supposed to create under inspiration; only our subconscious gives us inspira­tion; yet we apparently can use this subconscious only through our consciousness, which kills it” (1965, p. 13). The solution to this problem is the indirect method. The subconscious is induced. As Stanislavski notes: “The aim of the actor’s preparation is to cross the threshold of the subconscious…. Beforehand we have ‘true-seeming feeling,’ afterwards ‘sincerity of emotion.’ On this side of it, we have the simplicity of a limited fantasy; beyond, the simplicity of the larger imagination, [where] the cre­ative process differs each time it is repeated” (p. 267).

[6] We commonly assume that institutions are called in when individual controls fail: those who cannot control their emotions are sent to mental hospitals, homes for disturbed children, or prisons. But in looking at the matter this way, we may ignore the fact that individual failures of control often signal a prior institutional failure to shape feeling. We might ask instead what sort of church, school, or family influence was unavailable to the parents of institutionalized patients, who presum­ably tried to make their children into adequate emotion managers.

[7] Scientific writing, like scientific talk, has a function similar to that of covering the face and genitalia. It is an extension of institutional control over feeling. The overuse of passive verb forms, the avoidance of “I,” the preference for Latinate nouns, and for the abstract over the concrete, are customs that distance the reader from the topic and limit emotionality. In order to seem scientific, writers obey conven­tions that inhibit emotional involvement. There is a purpose in such “poor” writing.

[8] I heard the rationale for this company regulation discussed in class on Febru­ary 19, 1980. (It was also stated in the training manual.) Whether it has ever been enforced, and with what result, I don’t know.

[9] We may also believe that there shouldn’t be a feeling rule in a given instance. One father, for example, reported: “When Jeffrey was little, and squalled intermi­nably one morning—I felt like throwing him on the floor. I was horrified at my rage. But I told myself, it’s all right to feel the rage. It’sjust bad to acton it.”

[10] This raises the issue of display and display rules. It raises the issue of the “falseness,” as distinct from the “wrongness,” of a feeling. Wrongness refers to a discrepancy between “what I do feel and think” and “what I should feel and think.” Falseness refers to a discrepancy between “what I do feel and think” and “what I appear to feel and think.” For example, the bride may say “I’m so happy” with such a forced smile that she seems false to others. One of the display rules at weddings is that the bride should seem natural and unforced.

[11] What can be expected (at this stage, on this occasion) and what is wished for in experience deserve a certain analytic separation. But in the American middle class, there may be an “optimism norm” so that what we realistically expect and what we think is ideal are closer together than they are in other classes and other cultures.

[12] Private gender relations have a floorboard, which is the prevailing arrange­ment between the sexes in the larger society. An equalitarian couple in a society that as a whole subordinates women cannot, at the basic level of emotional ex­changes, be equal. For example, a woman lawyer who earns as much money and respect as her husband, and whose husband accepts these facts about her, may still find that she owes him gratitude for his liberal views and his equal participation in housework. Her claims are seen as unusually high, his as unusually low. The larger market in alternate partners offers him free household labor, which it does not offer her. In light of the larger social context, she is lucky to have him. And it is usually more her burden to manage indignation at having to feel grateful.

[13] When an airline commands a market monopoly, as it is likely to do when it is owned by a government, it does not need to compete for passengers by advertising friendly flight attendants. Many flight attendants told me that their counterparts on Lufthansa (the German national airlines) and even more on El AI and Aeroflot (the Israeli and Russian national airlines) were notably lacking in assertive friendliness.

t A black female flight attendant, who had been hired in the early 1970s when Delta faced an affirmative action suit, wondered aloud why blacks were not pic­tured in local Georgia advertising. She concluded: “They want that market, and that market doesn’t include blacks. They go along with that.” Although Delta’s cen­tral offices are in Atlanta, which is predominantly black, few blacks worked for Delta in any capacity.

[14] Most anger fantasies seemed to have a strong oral component, such as befoul­ing the troublemaker’s food and watching him eat it. These fantasies inverted the service motif but did not step outside it. No one, for instance, reported a fantasy about hitting a passenger.

[15] By some accounts, the company’s play on our culture’s devaluation of age in women made older female workers feel obliged to “make up” for their age by work­ing harder. There were some stories of direct harassment of older female flight at­tendants. One supervisor was reported to have asked a woman to take off her jacket and hold out her arms; he then remarked on the “unsightliness” of the flesh on the under side of her upper arms. Although the woman was personally distressed by this, another flight attendant and union official remarked: “They make us think age is a personal flaw. Actually, theyjust don’t want to pay our pensions.”

[16] Certain features of work not mentioned in job descriptions —such as incen­tive systems that join self-interest to worked-on display and feeling—may be espe­cially successful in promoting emotional labor. Salespersons working on commis­sion are a prime example. In the absence of clear self-interest, close supervision probably helps foster emotional labor most of all.

[17] A child asked to “love Aunt Hilda” might rebel by refusing to love Aunt Hilda. The child asked to feel ambitious and “love school” might rebel by hating school and disdaining success. R. D. Laing in his Politics of the Family (1971) draws attention to this middle-class “internal” mode of control by showing how parents and psychiatrists set feeling rules and how children and patients rebel against them. If authority in the middle class is more expressed through feeling rules and emotion management—if it is more through these than through rules of outer behavior that we are governed—then we would do well to examine, as Laing does, rebellion as rebellion against dictates in this realm.

t One latent message in the free-school education of the 1960s, designed al­most exclusively for middle-class students, was that personal feelings are near­sacred objects of attention and deserve frequent and detailed discussion. See Swidler(1979).

[18] Similarly, the social guardians of the positional control system are found not only in working-class families but in the traditional churches to which they go, and to some extent in the schools, where they learn to manage their behavior in ways that will be useful on the job.

sible), we might expect women to be more in touch with their feelings, which are, as a consequence, more available for conscious management. See Chodorow (1980). Men may manage feelings more by subconscious repressing, women more by con­scious suppressing. ‘

[20] Fiedler (1960) suggests that girls are trained to be “seriously” good and to be ashamed of being bad whereas boys are asked to be good in formalistic ways but covertly invited to be ashamed of being “too” good. Oversocialization into “sugar – and-spice” demeanor produces feminine skills in delivering deference.

[21] Other researchers have found men to have a more “romantic” orientation to love, women a more “realistic” orientation. That is, males may find cultural support for a passive construction of love, for seeing themselves as “ falling head over heels,” or “walking on air.” According to Kephart, “the female is not pushed hither and yon by her romantic compulsions. On the contrary, she seems to have a greater measure of rational control over her romantic inclinations than the male” (1967, p. 473).

t This pattern is also socially reinforced. When women sent direct messages (persuading by logic, reason, or an onslaught of information), they were later rated as more aggressive than men who did the same thing (Johnson and Goodchilds 1976, p. 70).

[22] The use of feminine wiles (including flattery) is felt to be a psychopolitical style of the subordinate; it is therefore disapproved of by women who have gained a foot­hold in the man’s world and can afford to disparage what they do not need to use.

[23] Celebrating male humor or enhancing male status often involves the use of what Suzanne Langer has called nondiscursive symbols, “symbols which are not verifiable, do not have dictionary meanings or socially defined syntax and order” (Langer 1951, 1967).

[24] Zick Rubin’s study of young men and women in love relationships (generally middle-class persons of about the same age) found that the women tended to ad­mire their male loved ones more than they were, in turn, admired by them. The women also felt “more like” their loved ones than the men did. (See Rubin 1970; Reiss 1960.)

[25] The code of chivalry is said to require protection of the weaker fry the stronger. Yet a boss may bring flowers to his secretary or open the door for her only to make up for the fact that he gets openly angry at her more often than he does at a male equal or superior, and more often than she does at him. The flowers symbolize redress, even as they obscure the basic maldistribution of respect and its psychic cost.

[26] More women than men go to doctors, and this might seem to explain why doctors take them less seriously. But here it is hard to tell cause from effect, for if a woman’s complaints are not taken seriously, she may have to make several visits to doctors before a remedy is found (Armitage et al. 1979).

[27] The management of American Airlines objected to a union request that men be allowed to wear short-sleeved shirts on warm days, arguing that such shirts “lacked authority.” As one female union representative quipped at a union meeting, “But since only male flight attendants have authority anyway, why should it matter?”

[28] Gay males apparently did not fit this general pattern. Although they were treated by the public as males and thus commanded more respect, they did not use this fact in the same way in their relations with female co-workers. Perhaps their anticipation of company and public prejudice against homosexuality led them to adjust the value of their respect currency to that of their female co-workers. This considerably eased relations between them and female workers. One woman worker said: “The gay stewards are great. If Pan Am had any sense, it would prefer to hire them.”

[29] The other side of being called a “girl” was not being allowed, socially speak­ing, to age. Even women in their thirties were occasionally called “granny” or sub­jected to within-earshot remarks such as “Isn’t she about ready for retirement?” As one woman in her mid-thirties noted: “There is definitely a difference, oh yes. The men take it for granted that they can work until sixty or sixty-five. The women work like dogs just to prove they can still do the job. And then they have to fight the granny remarks.”

[30] People want to be their “authentic” selves. As Marshall Berman has put it: “To pursue authenticity as an ideal, as something that must be achieved, is to be self­consciously paradoxical. But those who seek authenticity insist that this paradox is built into the structure of the world they live in. This world, they say, represses, alienates, divides, denies, destroys the self. To be oneself in such a world is not a tautology but a problem’ (1970, p. xvi).

[31] “If sincerity has lost its former status, if the word itself has for us a hollow sound and seems almost to negate its meaning, that is because it does not propose being true to one’s self as an end but only as a means” (Trilling 1972, p. 9).

[32] In the early Freudian model, a lack of reflexivity implies that ego cannot much alter the character of emotion. Sometimes this is explicit: Alexander and Isaacs note, “ It seems unlikely that the ego changes the quality of the affect” (1964, p. 232). Often buttressing this view is the notion that the ego is weak, as it is for the child. For the interactionist, the prototypic ego is that of the normal adult, and it has a moderate amount of strength.

[33] Collins gets Darwin right but Durkheim wrong. Having imputed a stress on animal instincts to Durkheim (in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life [ 1965]), he presents himself as drawing from Durkheim this heritage from Darwin. He wants to link Durkheim to Darwin via an interest in the similarity of animals and human beings (Collins 1975, p. 95). In fact, whereas Darwin stresses the similarity between humans and other animals, Durkheim stresses their differences. Animals cannot symbolize, and so Durkheim was not very interested in them.

t Thomas Scheff, in his essay “The Distancing of Emotion in Ritual,” draws on Freud’s early notion of catharsis and with it the idea of emotion as the “discharge" of one or more distressful emotions (grief, fear, embarrassment, anger). These emotions, he notes, are “physical states of tension in the body produced by stress” (Scheff 1977, p. 485). See also Hochschild (1977) and Glover (1939).

[34] We do not name feelings after physiological states, for good reason. It has long been known that physiologically, anger has much in common with fear (Schachter and Singer, 1962). Physiological differences are not pronounced enough from one feeling to another to account for the wide variety of emotion names we have in our language. Such differences can at best distinguish between general families of emotion.