Emotional labour: skill and work in the social regulation of feelings



I define emotional labour as the labour involved in dealing with other peoples’feelings, a core component of which is the regulation of emotions. The aims of the paper are firstly to suggest that the expression of feelings is a central problem of capital and paid work and secondly to highlight the contradictions of emotions at work.

To begin with I argue that ‘emotion’is a subject area fitting for inclusion in academic discussion, and that the expression of emotions is regulated by a form of labour. In the section ‘Emotion at home’I suggest that emotional labour is used to lay the foundations of a social expression of emotion in the privacy of the domestic domain. However the forms emotional labour takes and the skills it involves leave women subordinated as unskilled and stigmatised as emotional. In the section ‘Emotion at work’I argue that emotional labour is also a commodity. Though it may remain invisible or poorly paid, emotional labour facilitates and regulates the expression of emotion in the public domain. Studies of home and the workplace are used to begin the process of recording the work carried out in managing emotions and drawing attention to its significance in the social reproduction of labour power and social relations of production.