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January 24, 2006

Brace! Brace! Have a nice day!

My lonely campaign against the concept and practice of "emotional design" is failing. I learned with horror this morning that an International Journal of Emotional Labour and Organisations has been launched, and that it is for people who study emotionology. A journal and an 'ology in one day: The fight is lost. A history of the field is also on the way. Someone called Christina Kotchemidova at NYU is working on a "social history of cheerfulness" - a domain that includes the practice of "drive-by smiling" by motorists. It seems (or so say emotionologists) that "we can work ourselves comparatively easily into the feeling we're aiming at simply by altering our facial expression". Emotionologists revere a professor called Arlie Hochschild who was the first to study "emotional labour" back in the 1980s. Hochschild's 1983 book "The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling" included studies of bill collectors and airline attendants, and introduced Emotion Systems Theory to an expectant world. Hochschild also provided today's emotionologists with the concept of "feeling rules" for those wishing to manage the emotions of others. Business, as you might imagine, loves this stuff - and to judge by the new journal, plenty of academics are happy (sic) to give them more of it. But Hochschild's account of flight attendants is, I must confess, quite gripping. Trainees were constantly reminded that their own job security and the company’s profit rode on a smiling face. They were told "Really work on your smiles" and "Relax and smile." "No ridicule" was another rule: The flight attendant was not to react normally, perhaps laughing at passengers, but to "present an image that will make the guests feel comfortable". And of course, no alarm or fright: One attendant said: "Even though I am an honest person, I have learned not to allow my face to mirror my alarm or my fright."

From now on, the same goes for me. Whenever I meet an emotionologist, I'll smile - gosh how I'll smile.

Posted by John Thackara at January 24, 2006 08:13 AM

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