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The basic premise of this idea is that, in our modern world, we buy and sell feelings. This is why the word "commodification" is used. It is used because we make feelings into commodities that can be bought or sold.
For example, in our modern economy there are many service jobs. People in customer service jobs often have to portray a certain feeling or emotion as part of their jobs. For example, flight attendants have to portray a feeling of welcoming. They have to act as if they are really happy to see their passengers. This is something that did not used to be seen as much when our economy was more about making products rather than selling services.
Commodification of feelings uses the feelings of the employee to sell more product. Typically, commodities are considered to be a tangible product, but in the case of 'commodification of feelings', eliciting the desired emotions becomes the commodity. The above post's comment about the flight attendants is a great example. I would also venture that beyond the service industry, the media industry has also capitalized on commodification of feelings. From television shows to movies to 'Top Forty' singles on the radio, the media industry has made it their business to appeal to customers' emotions by providing equally emotional products. The thriving success of reality television, for example, uses the commodification of its stars' emotions to increase notoriety and broaden its audience appeal, thus ensuring continued advertiser funding.
A commodity is a product. Anything that can be bought and sold is a commodity. For example, labor is a commodity. Sugar is a commodity. People who are workers, laborers, do not usually want to be thought of as the same as sugar. If you work in a restaurant, you are expected to be cheerful. Teachers are expected to be helpful. You may not be feeling chipper, but you have to pretend.
Another example is a funeral director. The person has to be solemn all the time. Here is an example of a military officer's commodification of feelings.
I may not necessarily care at all that someone has died and that I am at a funeral, but when the situation presents itself, I must try to care and try to behave appropriately mournful.... (lawsonry.com)
Although this sounds cold, it is a reality. You can't be sad all the time. It would be impossible. It does not make you heartless.
I agree with the above post. Commodification of feelings has a strong negative connotation to me. People's feelings or emotional states should not be manipulated in the name of the almighty dollar, but whether we agree with the practice or not, this is a growing trend in the business community.
I think the reason that employers may ask their employees to present attitudes or emotions to customers that they may not actually feel at the time has to do with the products/experiences being purchased and sold. If an employee is hired to work in a setting in which a particular type of atmosphere is being created as part of the purchasing experience, the employee has to be aware that presenting the expected mindset while working will be one of the job expectations.
A college friend worked at Disney World - a prime example of "commodification of feelings" as an expectation of employees. She often mentioned how she and her coworkers would "sprinkle each other with pixie dust" before leaving the dressing room to actually begin their work with the public. For a Disney employee to not have been enthusiastically upbeat at all times would have been unthinkable (unless that person was Grumpy the dwarf)!
Commodification of feeling is a concept developed sociologist by Arlie Hochschild in The Managed Heart. She began with the concept of society-imbedded feeling rules and from there developed the concept of emotional labor. Emotional labor is labor during which we manufacture emotions in ourselves that are appropriate to the job paid for though perhaps not demonstrative of our personal feelings. The meaning of emotional labor is illustrated by the 20th century adage: "Leave your family and emotional problems at home."
In other words, whatever you may be personally feeling has no place at work: whatever emotions are job-explicit are the emotions that have a place at work. On the other side of the issue, some jobs require that employees elicit appropriate emotions (or the lack of emotion), in accord with societal feeling rules, from customers. A common example is a telephone customer service agent calming a customer down who has been offended or who has an error in their account.
It is this emotional labor, which is dependent upon what Hochschild calls deep acting, that becomes a commodity that is exchanged for wages. Thus emotional labor for an individual is the collective commodification of feeling throughout a society. Hochschild analyzed the phenomenon from the individual perspective, which an individual performs emotional labor, and from the collective social perspective, which is a society applying the feeling rules (e.g., this event should produce this amount of joy or grief of this level of intensity for this length of time) to employment requiring deep acting for a wage thus creating the commodification of feeling.
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