Emotional labour is a term that was coined by Hochschild, in reference to an expression of something that we have no genuine feelings about. Professionals are thus expected to control their feelings while interacting with superiors, co-workers, or clients. In other words, emotional labour involves faking feelings to suit our job description and the requirements of our employer (Brym and Lie 77). Emotional labour is best exemplified by flight attendants, teachers, sales clerks, and nurses, among other professions. These are the professionals who are required to deal with the anger, misconduct, and unreasonable demands of other people and still be okay with it. Emotional labour is fast emerging as a viable area of study and has hence attracted the attention of sociologists who have relied on various sociological theories to explain this phenomenon. The premise of this essay is to analyse an instance in my life where I performed emotional labour using conflict theory.
Conflict theory hinges on the premise that society is made up of unique groups characterised by contrasting interests, and that each of these groups seeks to have a slice of the limited resources. As a means of pursuing these limited resources and still ensuring that their privileges remain intact, the dominant groups resort to both indirect and direct means of oppressing the less dominant or disadvantaged groups (Brym and Lie 14). Going by this context of conflict theory, teachers are viewed as the disadvantaged groups who are at the mercy of the dominant group that controls the education system. These include politicians, parents, the government, and school administrators. I have noticed in my practice as a teacher that the dominant groups endeavour to exploit our services as teachers by means of controlling labour practices. For instance, we have no say in the development of the teaching curriculum, which is based on the national curriculum. We also have no input in the setting of national examinations. Nevertheless, we are required to remain accountable to our professional and implement the decisions made by the dominant groups regarding educational practice at the classroom level. I see this as a risky development, in that it could cause teachers to have no control over their labour, and might as well impact negatively on our emotional activities at school. Consequently, I am expected to maintain a calm and confident demeanour when attending to students even though I do not always agree with some of the decisions made by the dominant groups. Additionally, I have to respond to the needs and demands of students and parents alike.
An explanation of emotional labour activity in my life using conflict theory
I am a teacher at a local comprehensive school, in charge of year 8 students. I can attest to having experienced emotional labour in my profession on a number of occasions but one particular incident stands out. I was on my way to class for my 9 O’clock maths lesson when the deputy head teacher called me to his office briefly for an update on the maths and science congress activity that we would be hosting the next day. Consequently, I was late for the lesson by nearly 10 minutes. When I arrived, I found one of the students who happen to be the class clown, imitating how I teach, including my accent and gestures. Everyone was having the laugh of their lives until I stepped and they went, mum. To help break the ice, I joked that I already had an able replacement in the class clown.
Even though I managed to continue with the remainder of the lesson, I found myself developing a dislike for this class clown. Emotional labour demands that as a teacher, I should be in a position to suppress any feelings of anger or dislike towards my students, no matter how bad their behaviour might be. Instead, I am expected to show care and love to my students. This means that I have to learn how to carefully manage my emotions despite the setbacks I may have suffered, and ensure that the students remain happy. However, such suppression of negative emotions could develop into additional negative emotions such as regret, shame, or guilt. For example, at the end of the lesson, I found myself mulling over the issue. While it was obviously inappropriate to walk into a class where a student was imitating my behaviour, I felt that it was also not in order for me to harbour such loathing for the student. After all, he had not committed any crime in aping my behaviour.
While I had put on a brave face and smiled, and even joked about the whole incident with the rest of the class, deep down I was hurting. Consequently, this clash of feelings made me feel even more emotionally estranged. This is because I was not in a position to express my true feelings even if I wanted to because this would conflict with my role as a teacher and hence, a role model.
Were it not for the fact that there are school rules and guidelines in place that govern how teachers should conduct themselves professionally, I am almost certain that I would not have suppressed my feelings the way I did. Having to act as a role model to the students in terms of teaching them and guiding them, collaborating with the school administration while also ensuring that my personal problems do not get in the way of my professional responsibilities further creates role strain. Brym and Lie (76) describe role strain as an instance in which an individual encounters conflicting demands on a single status.
As a teaching professional, I am well aware of the role strain that teachers encounter in trying to execute their professional duties under the guise of emotional labour. I am also aware of teachers’ disadvantaged position relative to the dominant groups in the education system such as governments and school administrators. The experience that I had with a student who aped my behaviour in class helped to put this assertion into perspective for, while I would have ordinarily given him a piece of my mind, I had to joke about the incident and behave as would be expected of someone in my position. I believe that having first read the various theoretical perspectives in sociology as provided for in the text by Brym and Lie, I had a richer insight into what was required of me namely, choosing this example and relating it to the conflict theory.
Brym, Robert J and John Lie. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. Toronto: Nelson Education, 2015. Print.