THE SEARCH. FOR AUTHENTICITY
In a social system animated by competition for property, the human personality was metamorphosed into a form of capital. Here it was rational to invest oneself only in properties that would produce the highest return. Personal feeling was a handicap since it distracted the individualfrom calculating his best interest and might pull him along economically counterproductive paths.
— Rousseau (Вermaris paraphrase)
When Jean-Jacques Rousseau observed that personality was becoming a form of capital he was writing about eighteenth – century Paris, long before there were stewardess training schools and long before the arts of bill collecting were standardized and mass produced.1 If Rousseau could sign on as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines in the second half of the twentieth century, he would doubtless be interested in learning just whose capital a worker’s feelings are and just who is putting this capital to work. He would certainly see that although the individual personality remains a “medium of competition,” the competition is no longer confined to individuals. Institutional purposes are now tied to the workers’ psychological arts. It is not simply individuals who manage their feelings in order to do a job; whole organizations have entered the game. The emotion management that sustains the smile on Delta Airlines competes with the emotion man-
agement that upholds the smile on United and TWA.
What was once a private act of emotion management is sold now as labor in public-contact jobs. What was once a privately negotiated rule of feeling or display is now set by the company’s Standard Practices Division. Emotional exchanges that were once idiosyncratic and escapable are now standardized and unavoidable. Exchanges that were rare in private life become common in commercial life. Thus a customer assumes a right to vent unmanaged hostility against a flight attendant who has no corresponding right—because she is paid, in part, to relinquish it. All in all, a private emotional system has been subordinated to commercial logic, and it has been changed by it.2
It does not take capitalism to turn feeling into a commodity or to turn our capacity for managing feeling into an instrument. But capitalism has found a use for emotion management, and so it has organized it more efficiently and pushed it further. And perhaps it does take a capitalist sort of incentive system to connect emotional labor to competition and to go so far as to actually advertise a “sincere” smile, train workers to produce such a smile, supervise their production of it, and then forge a link between this activity and corporate profit. As the sticker on a TWA computer (facing the ticket agent) in the San Francisco Airport read: “When people like you, they like TWA too.” It takes considerable sophistication for a company to make this into an ordinary, trivial thought for a worker to be urged to bear in mind.