Emotion is one of the unique qualities that make us human. Emotion is used to create, monitor, and preserve social bonds (see Web Byte:Thomas J. Scheff: When Shame Gets Out of Hand). Emotion is also an important element in conflict, social movements, and social change (see Web Byte: Randall Collins & Conflict Theory). Arlie Hochschild’s interest in emotion is more mundane (but no less important) than either of these approaches.
Hochschild is interested in how we monitor emotions as part of our impression management. Erving Goffman explained how we manipulate our clothing, hair, accessories, settings, and so forth in order to present a specific kind of self when we encounter other people. Hochschild takes this analysis one step further and argues that emotional cues may be among the most important in human interaction.
According to Hochschild (1979), there are a variety of ways we do this kind of emotion work. One method is cognitive: we can try and change our ideas or thoughts in order to change the way we feel about something. Another approach involves the body. We can use the body to try and lead our emotions in a desirable direction. For example, we will breathe deeply in order to calm our nerves when speaking in front of a crowd. A third ways of managing emotion involves using expressive gestures. Sometimes we’ll smile in order to make ourselves feel happy. But the most important way that we manage our emotions is through deep acting.