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Bringing an Interactional Perspective to Emotion Work in Naturally-Occurring

Leah Wingard


Heather Willihnganz

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 37


The term emotion work was first used by sociologist Arlie Hochschild to refer to the management of emotions by workers to accomplish their paid work. She defined emotion work as "the act of trying to change in degree or quality an emotion or feeling." (Hochschild: 1979, 1983, 2003). While the term was first used by Hochschild to describe management of emotion in the labor market, the term has since been used by many scholars across a variety of disciplines to refer to various kinds of emotion management used by people in non-paid settings as well. Researchers analyzing work in non-paid settings have found the term useful to describe the "invisible" affective work performed by caregivers in family life, and women particular. In this paper we first document some of the various ways the concept of emotion work has understood by different researchers. Our literature review highlights the many different types of interactions and actions researchers have associated with emotion work. Based on the literature review and observations of emotion work in naturally occurring interaction, we propose a set of core distinctions that are useful for talking about different kinds of emotion work that may help researchers better compare and contrast different kinds of emotion work in their own research. Finally, we consider some emotional episodes between parents and children in naturally-occurring family interaction with respect to these distinctions. In analyzing these interactions we consider the nature of the interactions themselves, and in what ways the participants interactionally accomplish emotion work. Through this analysis, we arrive at a collection of verbal practices that might be associated with interactions involving emotion work in parent-child interaction. With this work we also hope to encourage researchers interested in emotion work to ground their research in emotion work more fully by considering the contributions that observations of naturally-occurring face-to-face interaction can make.

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