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It's (im)Material: Gender, Work and Emotion

Bolton, Sharon C. (2008) It's (im)Material: Gender, Work and Emotion. In: University of Sydney, 2008-12-02. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The subject of emotion in organisations is now well established and widely debated. However, having spent the past twenty five years developing the debate on emotions at work we now seem to have become trapped in never ending circular arguments concerning what is or is not 'emotional labour'. Of course, since Hochschild's seminal contribution concerning the commodification of our emotion work, the debate has raged on with many paths in and out of it focusing on a range of issues from prescriptions for its management to concerns with identity appropriation. One of the latest contributions comes from the Italian neo-Marxist school - Lazeretto, Hardt and Negri - and their notion of immaterial labour which focuses on creative and intellectual labour. A subset of that is affective labour which 'involves the production and manipulation of affect' and includes 'service with a smile', 'care labour', and 'kin work'. In combining different forms of emotion work, paid and unpaid forms of affective labour are conflated into one category of immaterial labour. In doing so the labour of emotional labour is now barely acknowledged. It is suggested that there are some tragic consequences of looking at emotion work through the lens of immaterial (affective) labour as, quite simply, it misses its materiality, i.e. that it is hard and productive work, devalued and unrewarded due to its links with the domestic sphere. In Celia Davies' terms, immaterial labour represents a 'masculine cultural project' in the way it downgrades emotion work as immaterial, unproductive, unskilled and outside of the labour process.