SOURCES AND METHOD
In describing the private and public face of an emotional system, and showing how it works, I have drawn on empirical samples from various distinct parts of it. I could have sampled more parts of it—by studying nurses or lawyers or salespeople, for example —as I hope very much someone will do. Or I could have gone much deeper into the material at hand. But for this project, the wide-sample approach seemed to make the most sense. For before the more usual sort of research can begin, we must confront the prior task of thinking about something that has been the object of surprisingly little previous thought. Given this early stage of inquiry, it seems to me that the most promising way to use materials is to point, to illustrate, and to comment, and that is what I have tried to do.
Illustrations for the ideas found in this book come mainly from three sources. The first was an inquiry into the question of how people of different sexes and social classes experience emotion and manage it. I gave out questionnaires to 261 students in two classes at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1974.5 A good number of my illustrations in Part One are drawn from their responses to two requests: “Describe a real situation that was important to you in which you experienced a deep emotion,” and “Describe as fully and concretely as possible a real situation that was important to you in which you either changed the situation to fit your feelings or changed your feelings to fit the situation.” With two research assistants I analyzed the responses for awareness of emotion work.6 Like a fisherman, I cast out these requests to see what I would find, but I had an eye out for a certain kind of catch—in this case, indications of will in how people talked about feelings. My respondents often spoke of acts upon feeling: of trying to fall in love or putting a damper on love, of trying to feel grateful, of trying not to feel depressed, of checking their anger, of letting themselves feel sad. In short, they spoke of managed feelings. The concept of emotion work elaborated in Chapter Three grew out of this initial project.
To manage private loves and hates is to participate in an intricate private emotional system. When elements of that system are taken into the marketplace and sold as human labor, they become stretched into standardized social forms. In these forms, a person’s contribution of feeling is thinner, less freighted with consequence; but at the same time it is seen as coming less from the self and being less directed to the other. For that reason it is more susceptible to estrangement.
I followed emotion work into the job market via two routes. First I entered the world of the flight attendant. As a point of entry, I chose Delta Airlines for several reasons: it puts a higher premium on service than other airlines do; its in-flight training program is perhaps the best in the industry; its service has been ranked very high; and it is headquartered in the South and has no union for flight attendants. For all these reasons, Delta’s company demands are higher and its worker demands lower than in other companies. Thus Delta exaggerates the demands put on all flight attendants. It gives sharper point to the general case about emotion work in public life.
The reason for exaggerating the case is to show just how far demands for emotional labor can go. Having done that, we may develop a benchmark for measuring other job demands. Even within the airline industry, emotional labor is much less evident now than it was in the mid-1950s when airplanes were smaller, the clientele more exclusive, and the ratio of flight attendants to passengers smaller. My point is that when emotional labor is put into the public marketplace, it behaves like a commodity: the demand for it waxes and wanes depending upon the competition within the industry. By focusing on a Southern nonunion company with the best training school, we can approximate a phase of high demand for a “commodity”—the trained management of feeling.
I gathered information at Delta in various ways. First, I watched. The head of the Delta Training Center in Atlanta, a gentle woman in her fifties, allowed me to attend classes there. I watched recruits learning passenger handling and meal service in the mock cabin. I got to know the trainers, who patiently explained their work to me. They were generous with their time, on duty and off; one trainer invited me home to dinner, and several repeatedly invited me to lunch. Over countless other breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and in the airport bus, I talked with students doing Initial Training and with experienced flight attendants attending the mandatory Recurrent Training sessions.
I interviewed twenty Delta officials, from the executive vice-president through managers in personnel, recruitment, training, sales, and billing. I held a group interview with seven supervisors. I interviewed four advertising agents employed by the firm commissioned to promote Delta and its flight attendants, and I looked through microfilms of thirty years of Delta advertising. Finally, I also interviewed the two public relations officials who were in charge of “handling” me.
To supplement the Delta study, I observed the recruiting of flight attendants by Pan American Airways at its San Francisco base. (Delta politely declined my request to observe recruiting procedures.) I observed both group and individual interviews with job applicants, and I sat in as recruiters discussed candidates. I also conducted open-ended interviews lasting three to five hours each with thirty flight attendants in the San Francisco Bay Area; twenty-five were women and five were men. The airlines they worked for included Pan American, TWA, World Airways, United, American, and Delta. The average age was thirty-five, and 40 percent were married. One was in her first year on the job, and one was in his twenty – second. They averaged eleven years of experience.7
The choice to study flight attendants was also good from the point of view of understanding the relation of gender to jobs (Chapter Five) for three reasons. First, it is not an elite occupation. We have many fine studies of professional women—doctors, lawyers, and academicians—but surprisingly few studies of secretaries and waitresses and factory workers. The flight attendant falls roughly between these two categories. Second, it is difficult to find jobs that allow us to compare the experience of men and women doing “the same” work. To study secretaries is to study almost only women; to study pilots is to study almost only men. Male and female doctors and lawyers tend to have different specialties and different clienteles. The male flight attendant, however, does the same work in the same place as the female flight attendant so that any differences in work experience are more likely due to gender. Third, in many studies, the problems of women as workers are confounded with the problems of being in a minority in a given occupation. In this work at least, the shoe is on the other foot: males comprise only 15 percent of flight attendants. They are the minority; and although being part of a minority usually works against the individual, this does not appear to be true in the case of male flight attendants.
I interviewed certain people with special angles of vision on flight attending, such as five union officials who were trying to persuade a reluctant local membership to accept the contract they had just proposed to American Airlines, and a sex therapist who in her ten years of practice had seen some fifty flight attendants as clients. I observed an assertiveness training course for flight attendants in which encounters with “problem” passengers were enacted. I might also mention stray conversations (with a Clipper Club receptionist at Pan American and with two pilots readying their plane for Hong Kong), a guided tour through a Pan Am plane, and a two-hour visit in the galley of a Delta plane where a flight attendant in blue jeans unloaded dirty trays and talked of escaping to law school.
I followed emotion work into the job market via another route as well. Whereas flight attendants do emotion work to enhance the status of the customer and entice further sales by their friendliness, there is another side of the corporate show, represented by the bill collectors who sometimes deliberately deflate the status of the customer with distrust and anger. As a miniproject, I interviewed five bill collectors, starting with the head of the Delta billing department, a man whose office overlooked nearly an acre of women sorting billing forms.
The flight attendant and the bill collector, the toe and the heel of capitalism, illustrate two extremes of occupational demand on feeling. I have drawn most of my illustrations from the world of the flight attendants. I did not make a full – scale study of the bill collectors, but my interviews with them do suggest that the same principles of emotional labor apply to very different jobs and very different feelings.
From these three pools of data, then, I have drawn three samplings of an emotional system. The first, taken from private accounts of students, reveals the private face of the emotional system. The second, drawn from the world of flight attendants, tells of its public front. The third, drawn from the world of bill collectors, tells of its public back. This book is not intended as an empirical report, or not simply as that. It provides what would have to underlie such a report— a set of illustrated ideas about how society uses feeling. Its purpose is to point in a certain direction and to offer the reader a fresh angle of vision. With the exception of illustrations from published prose or fiction (which are cited in the notes), all the quotations I offer are from real people.