Affective labour: neoliberal transformations of paid labour and bureaucratic work

The following chapter introduces our concept of affective labour. For this purpose we discuss the main transformations of paid labour in the market economy and in state bureaucracies during the last decades with a focus on affectivity. Four dimensions in the history of labour in the Global North since the end of World War II appear to be particularly important for our critical affect-theoretical perspective: first, the change to service work and the idea of freedom and satisfaction in labour relations; second, ‘subjectivation of labour’ as an ambivalent concept of both empowerment and subjection; third, precarity and the dissolution of boundaries of paid labour; and fourth, the dimension of governing related to the idea of affective self-entrepreneurship. We proceed in this chapter from a genealogy of paid labour (towards service work) and neoliberal developments in the labour market, such as precarisation and flexibilization of labour, to a discussion of our concept of‘affective labour’, and an analysis of neoliberal affective governmentality at the workplace and in service-oriented neo-bureaucracies, including and stressing shifting gender relations.

Rise of the service economy: emotional labour and work of subjectivation

Until the decline of welfare policies in the neoliberal era, technological progress in the production of goods - increased productivity through scientific-technological innovation - was connected to the goal of easing the work of wage earners, placing more time at their disposal, and increasing their time sovereignty through the shortening of weekly working hours and working lives. Political objectives promised a future ‘leisure society’ or ‘leisure-work society’ (e.g. Opaschowski, 1994: 30). The ‘Fordist compromise’ between capital and labour, characteristic of the post-war economic boom in Western Europe (the so-called Wirtschaftswunderjahre), aimed at a fair share of the economic gains and increasing material wealth for the labour force, mainly through rising incomes and the expansion of social security measures. During this era, labour union strategies for fewer working hours turned out to be by and large successful - in some places, such as France, even until the 1990s.

The political debate on labour market reforms revolved around a concept of work borrowed exemplarily from industrial production. It focused on Taylorised, standardised, and de-subjectivated labour with little scope for self-initiative or creativity, which is experienced by the individual as external constraint or determined by others and allows for no subjective leeway in decision-making or action. Thus, the political debate centred on ‘alienated’ labour in the Marxist sense. In the course of industrialisation and for the longest time (i.e. until the early 20th century) the establishment of work discipline was at stake (Hofbauer, 2014), the ‘making of the working class’, as E.P. Thompson (1966) called it, with the aim to exclude feelings and subjective factors from the labour process, as they were considered disruptive factors in the collaborative and mechanised production of commodities (Donauer, 2014: 6). According to David Harvey (1989: 128), even the Fordist production system was still based on the disciplining of workers ‘to long hours of purely routinized labour, demanding little in the way of traditional craft skills, and conceding almost negligible control to the worker over the design, pace and scheduling of the production process’. Admittedly, industrial production offered full-time employment, continuous occupation, increasing wages, and for the individual worker also the chance to rise in the company’s hierarchy - albeit, as a rule, only for men but not for women. This was enshrined in Western European welfare states, in particular in ‘conservative’welfare regimes (Esping-Andersen, 1990), in the male breadwinner model with a comparatively high ‘family wage’. This model also carried forward the traditional understanding of the female homemaker, housewife, and mother, whose financial support and social protection depends on the husband. According to the idea of the family income, manual, physical labour of men is meant to earn the livelihood for the entire family. At stake, in a word, is men’s paid labour for a family life outside the factory, that is, the so-called male ‘standard employment’, which shall take up as little of one’s time as possible, as it runs counter to the development of individuality and creativity. ‘Underneath virtually all experience of work today, there is a fatalistic feeling that work per se is unpleasant’, commented C. Wright Mills (2002: 229) on the U.S.A, situation of the 1940s.

In private enterprises of the Fordist era, the value of workers is measured ‘by their ability to contribute to the functioning of the organisation in that they fulfil the tasks assigned to them’ (Voswinkel and Wagner, 2011: 75). People are meant to fit in with the organisation, and decisive is labour’s instrumental value as well as its rational, objective orientation. During Fordism, an extensive system of social protection stabilises and legitimates the subordination under heteronomous organisational goals and hierarchical structures. The growing participation of wage earners in what Robert Castel (2002) calls ‘social property’ and the juridification of social security is based on the relatively homogeneous male standard employment and links the material prosperity of the family to standardised industrial wage labour. This conjunction is connected to a reorientation of‘emotions at work’, as the German historian Sabine Donauer

(2013: ch. IV) shows in her study: improvements of the ‘human relations’ in firms were meant to contribute to a harmonious work atmosphere; and greater work satisfaction, in turn, should result in a higher production output. The ‘Human Resource’approach of the 1970s, eventually, questioned such automatism and propagated instead the active creation of emotions for the purpose of increased productivity.

The short ‘golden age’ of the 20th century (Hobsbawm, 1996: 257—286), which comprises the three decades after World War II, is characterised by a strong growth of welfare institutions: unemployment, health, and pension insurance, but also the education system were expanded in the Western industrial societies, especially in post-war Europe, and dependent family members were better integrated into the system of social security. At the end of the 1970s, a broad range of social property and a high degree of social protection existed, poverty was largely marginalised (Paugam, 2008: 164-212), and the leading industrial countries had turned into (various forms of) welfare states.

The deep economic crisis of the mid-1970s ended the ‘golden age’ and further expansion of welfare; and capital accumulation, according to Regulation Theory (Aglietta, 1979; Harvey, 1989; 2007), became far more flexible regarding labour markets, labour processes, consumer products or consumption patterns. As David Harvey (1989: 147-150) points out:

Flexible accumulation appears to imply relatively high levels of ‘structural’ . . . unemployment, rapid destruction and reconstruction of skills, modest (if any) gains in the real wage, and the roll back of trade union power - one of the political pillars of the Fordist regime.

During the 1970s economic competition increased and accelerated, leading to the further rationalisation and automatization of production and a growing concern about the ‘deskilling’ of the labour force (Braverman, 1974).

One of the main characteristics of the transformation process consists in the successive replacement of material labour (i.e. industrial labour) for the production of material goods by immaterial labour and the production of immaterial goods. All economic studies agree, even if their evaluations differ, that service work became the motor of Western economies in the 1970s, while the production of material goods was increasingly transferred to other parts of the world, preferably to emerging economies. While industrial labour processes did not disappear entirely from the Western world, an increasing number of people found work in the service sector, and the production of commodities, in part, took on the character of services (Hardt and Negri, 2000: 304f.). Service work became the mainstay of social integration, and immaterial products constituted new forms of communication and cultural experiences — clearly visible in the rise of popular culture and the entertainment industry, which offered new emotional experiences, not to mention the revolutionary transformation of data processing and communication through the emerging computer technology. During this period, Sabine Donauer (2014: 12) emphasises, emotional demands — depending on the occupational group - became diversified, and, overall, the system of rewards and emotions drifted apart: while top managers were able to secure high compensations for their (emotional) work effort, engagement and affective exertion were expected as self-evident and therefore without reward for most other service workers.

In the course of economic restructuring, also the demands for professional competences and forms of knowledge changed. Research and development, hence knowledge and creative work, became the key factors of economic growth. Accordingly, dispositions such as team spirit and communication skills became more important as the basis of creativity and innovation. The general level of education in the Global North rose rapidly, in particular at the secondary and tertiary levels, engineered in Europe by social-democratic education initiatives. Eric Hobsbawm (1996: 296f.) reports that average student numbers in Europe tripled or even quadrupled between 1960 and 1980, and the number of universities doubled in the 1970s.

Particularly spectacular was the increase in education among women. ‘Immediately after the Second World War they constituted between 15 and 30 percent of all students in most of the developed countries’, writes Hobsbawm (ibid.: 311). Around 1980, studying at a university had become just as normal for young women as it was for young men. ‘The flow of women into work goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of further and higher education and the flooding into the universities of young women in increasingly high volume through the 1980s and onwards to the current moment’, also Angela McRobbie (2010: 67f.) asserts. And these women found work mainly in the service sector, where, along with professional knowledge, supposedly ‘female’ social, communicative, and affective skills — thus, certain forms of affective capital - were considered especially important. The development of such female employment can be traced back to the 1960s, when the integration of women into the labour market gained momentum in Europe exactly in the growing sectors of retail and personal services, and in the area of public services: in sales and office jobs, or pedagogical and social professions, in the fields of education and healthcare. All of these jobs demanded then - and still do now — communication skills and empathy, thus affective capital that is commonly regarded as feminine (which until today constitutes the gender-specific segregation of labour in Western economies).

In the 1970s and 1980s, public investments in the education system, as indicated by Hobsbawm (1996), created the prerequisites for the ‘knowledge society’ (Stehr, 1994) and ‘cognitive capitalism’ (Moulier Boutang, 2001, 2011; Vercellone, 2007) of the following years. Both terms refer to an economic order whose continuation and development relies on innovativeness and the creativity of intellectual work, (i.e. on the formation of new knowledge in social interaction), as manifest in the revolutionary changes of production and communication through digitalisation and the Internet. Knowledge, mainly theoretical knowledge, becomes the most important requirement for technical advancement and economic growth, and knowledge work the paradigmatic form of labour in the creative industries. The emphasis on cognitive skills and know-how in labour processes, on lifelong learning and steady investment in one’s own labour power, is related to a new perspective on the meaning of labour in people s lives. People should not spend less of their lifetime at work -in favour of more leisure time or activities outside of profitable markets — but rather should create greater freedom and carve out larger leeway within their occupations and during work. ‘Freedom at work’, different from freedom from work, thus corresponds with the idea of eliminating the boundaries between work and leisure. And freedom at work is based upon and includes new forms of emotion management and emotional or affective labour.

C. Wright Mills’ (2002) study, White Collar, published as early as 1951, was one of the first systematic investigations of the growing importance of intellectual and affective labour in the U.S.A., showing the rise of an employee culture, or rather of a new middle class, whose members worked or earned their income in service professions, as managers or skilled employees, such as teachers, office personnel, or salespersons. Mills devoted systematic attention to a development that Max Weber and Siegfried Kracauer at the turn of the century already considered as a future perspective: the rapid increase of employees in ‘private bureaucracy’ (Weber, 2010) and of‘white-collar workers’ (Kracauer, 1988).

According to Mills (2002: 65), characteristic of the transformation of labour was that ‘fewer individuals manipulate things, more handle people and symbols’. The result of this personal, communicative aspect of jobs in management, trade, sales, and offices was that employees’ ‘personalities’ and also their affective dispositions became decisive criteria of their work. Mills speaks of the emergence of a personality market: ‘The employer of manual services buys the workers’ labour, energy and skill; the employer of many white-collar services, especially salesmanship, also buys the employees’social personality’ (ibid.: 182). Thus, ushered early on in the U.S. were work processes that utilised the ‘whole person’ — a new type of affective subjectivation - which can be considered symptomatic for the further development in Western post-industrial societies. Noticeable already at that time was the strong presence of women in the new service sectors. Mills (ibid.: 74f.) reports that 41 percent of the employees were women (in contrast to a mere 21 percent of women wage labourers in industry), whereby women were employed mainly in social professions, office and sales jobs, as ‘office girls’ and ‘salesgirls’ (ibid.: 172-178, 198—204). ‘Kindness and friendliness’ — emotions that are placed at the service of firms and traditionally ascribed to women - ‘become aspects of personalized service’ (ibid.: 182). The assumption is that women, qua their affective capital, are better suited than men for certain occupational responsibilities.

Almost three decades later, Arlie Hochschild (1979, 2003) systematically took up these thoughts and made them the focus of her studies on (gendered) emotion work and emotional labour. Arlie Hochschilds (2003) pioneering study, The Managed Heart, of the 1980s on flight attendants and employees in bill collection agencies focuses on the commodification of emotional labour and the necessity of emotion work as part of the work process. Her revolutionary core concept is that the management of feelings, which is traditionally demanded of women in areas of reproduction and the private life, such as the caring and solicitous support of family members, termed ‘emotion work’ by Hochschild, becomes an essential part of paid labour in service societies (ibid.: 20). Privatised and feminised competences, which are ascribed to women as quasi ‘natural’ properties and are therefore not considered achievements or work, gain significance in the valorisation process of labour. Hence, they can no longer be regarded as character traits (mainly) of women but rather have to be considered as skills and qualifications.

Employees in the service sector are expected to apply their emotions in a profitable way for the company, they are expected to manage and modulate their own feelings in a peculiar way, namely in the interest of the enterprise: for the well-being and satisfaction of passengers on an airplane (e.g. through the creation of an atmosphere in which they feel cared for, looked after, and safe). By doing so, flight attendants have to suppress any anger that may arise from passengers’ behaviour. Emotional labour thus means to generate specific emotional states in other people while controlling, modulating, or suppressing one’s own feelings according to ‘feeling rules’ (ibid.: 56—74; Steinberg and Figart, 1999: 16). This valorised emotion work, which Hochschild calls ‘emotional labour’, even when it is carried out with a certain inner distance, does not remain without effect but contributes to the constitution of employees’ subjectivity in the service sector.

The individual meaning of emotional labour gains relevance especially through Hochschilds differentiation between ‘surface’ and ‘deep acting’, i.e. between superficial, feigned practices, and internalised, embodied ones. This leads to the central question of her study:

When rules about how to feel and how to express feeling are set by management . . . when deep and surface acting are forms of labour to be sold, and when private capacities for empathy and warmth are put to corporate uses, what happens to the way a person relates to her feeling or to her face?

(Hochschild, 2003: 89)

Hochschilds answer to this question includes, for one, the diagnosis of alienation: alienation from the job and self-alienation, or alienation from one’s own feelings, caused by wage labour’s colonisation of life and emotions. She sees especially women at risk because of the greater emotional demands they are confronted with compared to men — not only in the family but also in their working lives (ibid.: ch. 8). She furthermore points to the growing appreciation of‘authentic’feelings and spontaneity as a counter-reaction to the marketing of emotions, as well as to a ‘true self’, which can be found in the private, family sphere, a (albeit disappearing) counter world to the capitalist market economy (ibid.: ch. 9). ‘Her argument ... is animated by an ideal of the “unmanaged heart’”, concludes Kathi Weeks (2007: 244), ‘associated either with a separate private world of emotional practice and contact or with what one may experience as one’s “true” self’.

The focus of Hochschild’s work and of the myriad studies that were subsequently conducted is on ‘emotional dissonance’, on the contradiction between ‘internal states and external rules’ (Rastetter, 2008: 283). Studies following Hochschild’s approach have shown that emotion work as deep acting can, in fact, be experienced as a problem, as stress, excessive demand, and anxiety, as in the study about the German federal police by Peggy Szymenderski (2012). From today’s perspective, Hochschild’s analysis presents a first critical contribution, avant la lettre, to the theme of ‘subjectivation of work’ that pays particular attention to gender relations and emotional relationships, to the gendering of work in the mode of feeling (Weeks, 2007: 245) in service societies. In this regard the value of the study cannot be overestimated.

The conceptualisation of aesthetic labour in the sense of aesthetic selfmanagement and self-staging (Nickson et al. 2003; Warhurst and Nickson, 2007, 2009; Warhurst, Thompson and Nickson. 2009; on influencers Drenten, Gurrieri and Tyler, 2019) in the following years took up additional bodily aspects of service work, in addition to emotionality, like the sexualisation and beautification of the body to affect consumers, more comprehensively than in Hochschild’s work. The long history of female sexiness in advertising goes hand in hand with the marketisation of physical beauty and sex appeal in the labour processes of the service sector, like in the hotel, catering or retail business: ‘Aesthetic labour foregrounds embodiment, revealing how the corporeality; not just the feelings, of employees are organizationally' appropriated and transmuted for commercial benefit’, Chris Warhurst and Dennis Nickson (2009: 386) write, thus addressing a continuum from implicitly to explicitly displayed sexuality in the labour process that extends from emotional over aesthetic labour to sexualised labour (ibid.: 399).

In the discussion of Hochschild’s concept, and with special attention paid to the subjective experiences of service workers, Marek Korczynski focuses on the ambivalences and tensions that arise between the cost-efficient rationality' of commodified services and the claim of customer satisfaction. Korczynski (2009: 73—88) terms these organisations that obey a dual logic of, on the one hand, efficient and standardised work processes and, on the other hand, personalised and empathetic service orientation, ‘customer-oriented bureaucracy’. ‘The essential element of customer-orientation involves orientation to the non-rational aspects of customers, towards customers’ sense of emotions, individuality and power’, explains Korczynski (ibid.: 78). ‘The key aspect offered within the service delivery' is an enchanting myth of sovereignty . . . that customers can feel a sense of sovereignty’ (ibid.; emphasis in original). And that precisely often contradicts rational, internal organisational structures of service companies, characterised by cost efficiency, and leads to dissatisfaction and frustration among workers, who are unable to deliver the envisaged quality of service work.

The structural transformation of paid labour in the private sector led to an extensive sociological debate focussing on the ‘subjectivation of labour’. Frank Kleemann, Ingo Matuschek and Gunter Voß (2003: 69) point out:

The growing pressure of competition not only necessitates a massive reduction of costs and promotion of work productivity in firms, but also forces the improvement of operational reaction times and product quality. The firms meet these challenges through new strategies in the utilization of labour.

Changes in the organisation of work are meant to uncover employees’ ‘bureaucratically obstructed potential’ (Moldaschl, 2003: 31) to benefit from their personal competences, such as their communication skills and service affinity.

This transformation of labour, observable mainly, but not exclusively, in service and knowledge professions, has to be considered as typical for the post-Fordist development in general and possesses a double character: on the one hand, subjectivation of labour promises greater personal freedom at work and thus meets employees’ desire for personal involvement and fulfilment, enabling them to experience labour as personal development and self-realisation, as the German sociologist Martin Baethge (1991: 7f.) writes. New scopes for action (e.g. through job enrichment) shall allow workers to feel freer, more autonomous, and therefore more satisfied, according to the Human Resource approach (Donauer, 2014: ll).1 On the other hand, however, corporate control of the work performance extends to the ‘whole person’. Kristin Carls (2007: 49) points to the neo-Taylorisation of emotional labour and intensified hierarchical control of labour processes, especially in the area of low-qualified service work.

Subjectivation thus also implies that control and discipline encompass subjective dispositions hitherto beyond marketable exploitation. From a business perspective, at stake is not only the utilisation of professional skills but also companies’ access to the innovativeness and creativity of their employees, to their social and communicative competences, their enthusiasm, sensuality, and emotionality, and thus, exploitation of the so-called key competences, the affective capital or soft skills, in order to maximise the potential of labour power (Aulenbacher, 2005: 37).

The often-cited ideal type of‘entreployee’ (Pongratz and Voß, 2003) or ‘intrapreneur’ indicates the new stage of development: the transformation of the traditional, reactively operating wage labourer - the Fordist factory worker - into a proactive and entrepreneurial type of employee. ‘The ideal of an obedient yet energetic person compliantly following orders and rules has been replaced by the “intrapreneur”, a self-reliant, entrepreneurial yet loyal personality’ (Flecker and Hofbauer, 1998: 109). In this process new forms of (labour) control also take shape to convert the fundamental ‘indeterminacy of labour power* into concrete profitable labour (Brook, 2013: 334). This, however, does not occur without friction, as Marek Korczynski’s (2009) notion of ‘customer-oriented bureaucracy’ shows.

The increased scope in decision-making in knowledge and service jobs is related to a shift from external to internal control of labour power, i.e. to the incorporation of an entrepreneurial work discipline and performance orientation (Pongratz and Voß, 2003: 24). Following Michel Foucault (2010: lecture 9), this process consists of an entanglement of external guidance (through business management techniques, such as Management by Objectives) and self-government of the individual in order to improve one’s competitiveness. The effects of the interplay, however, are not limited to professional life but determine the overall process of subjectivation (in the Foucauldian sense), of becoming a subject, in neoliberalism. ‘Self-management is supposed to activate the potential of the whole person, not just her ability to work. Being an entrepreneur is not about how much you earn; it’s about an attitude to life,’ as the German sociologist Ulrich Bröckling (2016: 32) explains. The (fictional) character of the ‘entrepreneurial self’ is the vanishing point of this development -of self-economisation and corporatisation of one’s way of life, of turning life into a project of marketable self-optimisation, Bröckling (ibid.: ch. 2) writes with reference to Foucault. In neoliberalism, the homo oeconomicus is therefore no longer a trading partner but rather an ‘entrepreneur of himself’, concludes Foucault (2010: 226). A society comprised of entrepreneurial units is ‘at once the principle of decipherment linked to liberalism and its programming for the rationalization of a society and an economy’ (ibid.: 225).

In neoliberalism the regime of economic competition and the idea of activation and permanent optimisation take root in society at large, where people (or from a managerial perspective, human resources) shall strive to improve their ‘human capital’ (Becker, 1993), to accumulate capital through investments in education (or the education of one’s children), in social relations and networks (‘social investments’), but also in physical fitness and attractiveness. As the German journalist Julia Friedrichs in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit (33/2013) reports, this development is carried to an extreme by so-called ‘self-optimisers’: ‘They control themselves 24/7 with the help of their own personal surveillance troops consisting of little machines: sensors that they wear on their bodies, programmes on their laptops, apps on their smartphones’ (ibid.). And Friedrichs points to the rapidly growing number of users of digital selfmaximisation programmes: 35 million people in the U.S.A, alone (ibid.; also Becker, 2015). Hence, we no longer have to consider workfare as a significant feature of transforming welfare states (see Chapter 3) but rather ‘selfFare’ as an important dimension of neoliberal subjectivation.

In the labour market, the trend towards self-entrepreneurship shows in the increase of‘new independent contractors’ or self-employment (Bologna, 2018) but also in the growth of ‘pseudo-self-employment’ that forces people to take on jobs at the bottom of the income hierarchy. Both developments are strikingly opposed to Fordism with the aim of generalising wage labour and not entrepreneurship. The changes towards self-entrepreneurship are also evident in the commodification of education (Burchell, 1996: 27f), for example, in the form of expensive elite schools, where pupils early on are able to accumulate social capital; or at the university level in the form of the booming system of student loans (i.e. rising debts with respect to future earnings). According to Maurizio Lazzarato (2012: 135), in neoliberalism social rights (such as rights to education, healthcare or unemployment benefits) are generally transformed into social and private debts that must be repaid. As he argues:

Repayment will be made not only in money but through the debtor’s constant efforts to maximize his employability', to take a proactive role in his integration into the work or social environment, to be available and flexible on the job market. Debt repayment is part of a standardization of behavior that requires conformity' to the life norms dictated by' the institution.


The above-indicated ambivalences, which are reflected by the concept of‘sub-jectivation of labour’ — subjectivation understood as gains in freedom but also as subjection to the economic paradigm - have led us to give the debate a somewhat different twist. In our opinion, the neoliberal transformation process of labour constitutes not only' a new form of labour power but rather opens up a debate on the ‘work of subjectivation’. With this concept we focus on new ways of constituting subjectivity and on the normation and normalisation of people in neoliberalism.

The social preconditions of new forms of subjectivation, of the idea, how people should live and work — in the words of Foucault, of neoliberal biopolitics and power - are flexibilization and precarisation of labour, and the dismantling of social security, connected to the activation of people, so that they' become more self-reliant and -effective. We discuss these developments in the following section.

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