Authenticity as regulative ideal of coherence

I believe that in order to make conceptual room for the authenticity of professionally managed emotions, we must go back to the scant existing theoretical discussion on emotional authenticity. Rebecca Erickson, a leading sociological researcher of inauthenticity at work, proposes a conceptualisation of authenticity in terms of commitment to self-values. Drawing from Trilling, Berman, and Goffman, she argues that there is an emotionally grounded, transsituational self, whose felt identity "is an individual's subjective sense of his or her own situation and the continuity and character that an individual comes to have as a result of his or her various social experiences" (Erickson, 1995, p. 126). Felt identity is constituted through commitments to various role-identities, such as teacher, parent, or volunteer, which themselves are social and implicate certain values. Values that persist as salient self-meanings across one's various role-identities constitute the person's self-values. It is the commitment to those identities which enable us to express our most important self-values that constitutes the core of authenticity. Accordingly, "It is our emotional reaction to the maintenance of such commitments that comprises the heart of our feelings of relative authenticity, and our reaction to their violation - feelings of relative inauthenticity" (ibid., p. 127, see also Gecas, 2000).

Erickson highlights a sense of unity and coherence as a regulative ideal of authenticity. Yet she emphasizes that "the particular self-values that are implicated in any two situational contexts or relationships may differ" (ibid., p. 139), thus, arriving at a more context- and relationship-relative view of authenticity. Still, for the subject, the challenge of "integrating these increasingly complicated and contradictory fragments of identity" (ibid.) within one's biographic self and one's more transsituational set of self-values remains. And since the task of integrating identities comes down to integrating their constitutive value commitments, authenticity becomes a matter of reaching coherence, however unique, among one's values, commitments, and emotions. This explication of authenticity is compatible with the more detailed normative account of emotional authenticity that I have presented above in Chapter 4.

A normative understanding of authenticity provides us a deeper insight into the relation of identity and authenticity by showing that it is not identification with the work role as such but commitment to the constitutive beliefs, values and norms of this identity and their compatibility with the person's other central, either private or social, beliefs, values and norms that renders emotion management in the work role authentic. Indeed, Ashforth and Mael (1989, p. 29) support this interpretation by pointing out that "it is not the identities per se that conflict, but the values, beliefs, norms, and demands inherent in the identities". Conversely, when two or more role-identities are compatible, it is the values, beliefs, norms, and demands inherent in those identities that are compatible with each other. Such compatibility may be attainable only after an arduous process of "juggling and synthesising" one's multiple identities, as Bolton suggests. But then again, this is why authenticity is a regulative ideal rather than a readily attainable state.

An authentic emotion coheres then with the constitutive epistemic and normative commitments of the agent's various identities, both private and professional. Moreover, an authentic emotion must be sincere, because otherwise it does not qualify as a real emotion. However, spontaneity is not necessary for emotional authenticity, because authentic emotions may emerge either spontaneously or through emotion management, either private or professional.

The value-based understanding of authenticity provides an explanation for conflicting observations on felt authenticity at work. The model proposes that people can feel authentic when performing emotion work if they can find a way of reconciling the normative and epistemic commitments of their work roles with the commitments of their other private and social identities. In part, compatibility is achieved by organising different identities into a hierarchy in terms of salience and commitment to the identity (e.g. Hogg, 1992). However, some role or identity conflicts are too deep to be resolved through subordination or negotiation. For example, if one values politeness and tact, it is difficult to accept the occupational feeling rule of debt collectors that requires the employee to intimidate debtors. Even people adept at "juggling and synthesising" may at times experience emotional exhaustion when managing their emotions according to professional feeling rules. However, the value-based account of authenticity suggests that there need not be anything inherently alienating about managing emotions at work, provided that the epistemic and normative commitments of the work role are compatible with the worker's other salient commitments. If emotion management according to professional feeling rules is nevertheless experienced as inauthentic more than occasionally, it is possible that the causes of this experience lie elsewhere.

It is a well-known fact that unfavourable working conditions have the capacity to erode or vitiate the authenticity of emotion management in accordance with professional feeling rules. Even highly motivated and committed professionals who strongly identify with their work roles are bound to burn out if they have to work under a constant overload without autonomy in a socially unsupportive and authoritatively managed organisation (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Wharton, 1993; Morris & Feldman, 1996; Abraham, 1998; Pugliesi, 1999; Grandey, 2000; Zapf, 2002; Bolton & Boyd, 2003)[1]. For this reason, the compatibility of a person's professional and other beliefs, values, and norms can render an occupational emotion merely prima facie authentic. However, it is important to distinguish between different types of causes of inauthenticity: the ones emerging from a conflict between the values, norms, and demands of one's various identities, and the ones based on working conditions. This distinction is significant because it suggests that the professional context need not render emotion management inauthentic by default. On the contrary, professions may provide an important source of self-values to their members.

  • [1] Felt inauthenticity at work must also be distinguished from moral distress that workers experience when they know the ethically appropriate action in a particular situation but are constrained from taking it, often for organisational reasons (see Jameton, 1984). Moral distress is in fact an expression of emotional authenticity at work as it emerges from the worker's commitment to the service ideal of his or her profession, see below pp. 135-6.
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