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The alienated heart: Hochschild’s ‘emotional labour’ thesis and the anticapitalist politics of alienation

Brook, Paul (2009) The alienated heart: Hochschild’s ‘emotional labour’ thesis and the anticapitalist politics of alienation. ISSN 0309-8168

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Abstract

Arlie Russell Hochschild’s influential emotional labour thesis in The Managed Heart (1983) exposes and opposes the harm wrought by the commodification of human feelings as customer service, and complements contemporary anticapitalist writing with an enduring influence and political relevance that is underpinned by Hochschild's application of Marx’s alienation theory. Critics have sought to blunt the politics of her thesis by rejecting as absolutist her condemnation of workers’ alienation. But her application of alienation theory is not thorough, since her explicit usage of it is limited to only two of Marx’s four dimensions, and thus it stops short of theorising alienation as generic to society. This undermines Hochschild’s argument on emotional labourers’ resistance, since she inadequately captures the way workers are shaped by alienation but not blinded to the reality of capitalism. The continuing political potency of her thesis requires that it should be defended and strengthened.

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