“The Sociology of Emotional Labor”

Wharton, Amy S. 1999. “The Sociology of Emotional Labor.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol.35, pp.147-165.

“The Sociology of Emotional Labor”

by Amy S. Warton


Notes by:

John Cann


Emotional labor defined: This is the study of human emotions in the work place and its relationship to human factors, vis-à-vis worker performance based on human conditions and the management thereof.


Two specific areas of study are:

  1. Used to understand the organization, structure and social relations of service jobs
  2. Tries to understand the “individuals’ efforts to express and regulate emotion and the consequences of those efforts”


Unlike the use of direct use human factors, research in emotional labor generated research opportunities but lacks any real applied application of the results.


Talking points:

  1. Emotions are not only shaped by broad cultural and social norms, but also are increasingly regulated by employers.
  2.  Jobs that involve significant human interaction require more emotional labor.
  3. When companies demand employees to act a certain way, it diminishes self identity, but when employees add their unique personality when dealing with customers the productivity will most likely be higher than if the interaction was completely controlled by the empoyer.


Gender, Race and Personal Service Work:


Frontline Service Jobs, i.e. retail clerks, phone sex workers, strippers et al. use the term “emotional proletariat,” which is defined as “service jobs in which workers exercise little formal power, are often subject to employers’ attempts to monitor and control their interactions, and are required to display friendliness and deference to customers…Because of the letter characteristics, these occupations tend to be gender-typed as female.”


“Deference is the capacity to place oneself in a ‘one down’ position.”


Aforementioned are constituents tied to gender, race and social class.


Care Work meaning employment whereas the workers is in a caretaker postion like nursing, midwifery etc. show “changes in the structure. Practice, and professional norms guiding these fields have a potential to increase or diminish workers’ positive experience of caregiving.  Research on emotional labor as caregiving has prompted greater attention to emotion work at home or unpaid care work. This type of work is more often taken by woman than by men.


Emotional labor can be a useful application in identifying workplace challenges and social behaviors within industry. However, more research will need to be completed and theories need developing before any real advances will be realized.

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