Emotions in capitalism (and the rise of homo sentimentalis)

Intimitats Congelades (2007) is the title of the work in which sociologist Eva Illouz it aims to analyze the emotions in the instrumentalisation that capitalism has made of them during the last century.

Studying the impact of psychology on the development of an “emotional capitalism” in which economic relations parasitize and end up transforming the culture of affections, the author composes this work through the three lectures which will be reviewed. The first of the lectures is entitled The Rise of Homo Sentimentalis.

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What are emotions (and their role in capitalism)

Illouz begins by considering emotions as a cross between “cultural meanings and social relations” which, by simultaneously compromising “cognition, affection, evaluation, motivation and the body”, results in a condensation of energy capable of allowing human action.

Likewise, the author considers that the emotions present a “pre-reflective and often semi-conscious” character since they are the result of social and cultural elements which escape the conscious decision of the subjects.

A new emotional style

At the beginning of the twentieth century, and thanks to the diffusion of the therapeutic discourse which promotes clinical psychology, “a new emotional style” spread consisting of “a new way of thinking about the relation of oneself to others”. The main elements to consider for this “new interpersonal imagination” of the psychoanalytic type are:

  1. The crucial role played by the nuclear family in the conformation of jo.
  2. The importance of daily life events in the configuration of the normal and the pathological.
  3. The centrality of sex, Sexual pleasure and sexuality in a linguistically structured imaginary.

From the 1920s onwards, this new emotional style spread mainly through what Illouz calls “counseling literature”. But while the psychoanalytic style provided “the vocabularies through which the ego understands itself” in an overt omnipresent vocation, it has ended up being particularly functional in the business world, contributing both to the emotional management of workers’ lives. , as the systematization and rationalization of their activities during the production process.

The role of psychology in business management

The author asserts that “the language of psychology has been very successful in shaping the discourse of business individuality” insofar as contributed to neutralize the class struggle by shifting the labor conflict to the emotional framework relating to the personality of the worker.

In any case, the uses of psychology in the field of business should not be understood only as a subtle mechanism of control by the direction, because they also fix “budgets of equality and cooperation” in the relations ” between workers and managers ”. Such contributions would not have been possible without the development of a “linguistic model of communication”, the foundation lies in the search for empathy by the interlocutors.

Thus, the communicative capacity that enables social recognition has come to be a strategy by which to achieve business goals so that knowing the emotions of the other through communication facilitates professional competence practices, at the time that alleviates uncertainties about the advent of a flexible mode of production. Illouz sums it up this way: “Emotional capitalism has reorganized emotional cultures and made the economic individual emotional and emotions will be more closely related to instrumental action”.

The role of psychology in the family

After having “reinforced efficiency and social harmony in the company”, psychology penetrated the family sphere to extend “the market of therapeutic services” to a middle class which, from the second half of the 20th century, has grown considerably in the advanced capitalist countries. . Likewise, therapeutic psychology was supported by the rise of feminism from the seventiesThe main concerns revolved around family and sexuality.

Psychology and feminism have helped to make public, and therefore political, what had hitherto been experienced as personal and private.

This attitude shared by therapeutic and feminist discourse towards “the ideal of intimacy” was given on the basis of equality between the members of an affective relationship, so that “pleasure and sexuality [se fundasen] in the implementation of fair behavior and in the affirmation and preservation of the fundamental rights of women. “

Streamlining emotional relationships

Following a new egalitarian paradigm in intimate relationships, there was a tendency to systematize in a methodical and rational manner the values ​​and beliefs of the members of the couple. Therefore, “the intimate life and the emotions [se convirtieron] into measurable and calculable objects, which can be translated into quantitative statements “.

The rationalization of intimate relationships starting from the questioning of the emotional links on which they are based has led to the transformation of these relationships “into cognitive objects comparable to each other and susceptible of a cost-benefit analysis”. Removed from their particularity, depersonalized and subjected to a process of commensuration, relations have assumed a condition of indeterminacy and transitory.

Bibliographical references:

  • Illouz, Eva. (2007). Frozen intimacies. Emotions in capitalism. Katz Editors (pages 11 to 92).

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