Social Justice Usage
Source: McQueeney, Krista, and Lavelle, Kristen M. “Emotional Labor in Critical Ethnographic Work.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 46(1): 2016, 81–107, pp. 85–86.
Like most jobs that involve attentiveness to others, qualitative research demands emotional labor. Emotional labor—the process by which workers summon certain feelings (and not others) in themselves, their colleagues, and their clients (Hochschild 1983)—is a hidden work requirement of both low-status and high-status service occupations. Arlie Hochschild’s (1983) The Managed Heart has inspired research on the emotional labor of nurses, teachers, actors, psychotherapists, and call center, child care, retail, fast food, and nail salon workers. Yet critical ethnographers’ own emotional labor has been under-studied. Certainly, many ethnographers have unpacked their own emotions in the research process. Yet, these are typically framed as personal accounts of fieldwork. We examine emotional labor as a “generic process” in ethnographic work, or one that “occurs[s] in multiple contexts wherein social actors face similar or analogous problems.” While ethnographers might perform emotional labor differently depending on the situations they face and the resources available to them, we argue that emotional labor is a basic component of critical methodology.
New Discourses Commentary
Like many concepts utilized by Critical Social Justice, the idea of “emotional labor” originated with a real and valuable meaning that has been expanded to a nearly unrecognizable and politically useful extreme. Within the realms of organizational psychology and sociology, emotional labor refers to the idea of having to manage one’s emotions in a particular way as a part of one’s work requirements, for example when one’s job requirements include presenting with a positive or affable affect, cheerfulness, friendliness, or even stoicism in the face of frustrations. That is, emotional labor can include a work requirement to display certain emotions or to suppress certain emotions, or both. Clearly, given this is a real work requirement in many employment situations, it is a valuable concept for rigorous study.
In Critical Social Justice, however, the concept has been expanded considerably from these reasonable roots (see also, complicity). This is in keeping with three foundational tendencies in the Critical Social Justice mindset (and its predecessors, particularly including both feminism and gender studies, thus also queer Theory):
- The appropriation of politically useful concepts around concepts like domination and exploitation that can be problematized via critical methods.
- The tendency within critical theories to exaggerate problematics to associate them with obvious social evils (see also, violence, erasure, genocide, marginalization, humanity, and oppression).
- The related but distinctly postmodern tendency to blur reasonable conceptual boundaries so politically useful but largely false statements can be made and defended.
Thus, the idea of emotional labor applies, under Critical Social Justice, to the emotional states and management expected or required in normal (and other) human relationships or even in states of being or identity. For example, feminists often claim that being expected to be happy, nice, and positive (by smiling, etc.) because women are (allegedly) expected to (by patriarchy) constitutes a form of emotional labor women are unjustly expected to do, uncompensated. This was often analyzed specifically under socialist approaches to feminism.
For an example of the other type, since trans people are deemed profoundly oppressed by the Theory of Critical Social Justice, and because being trans is legitimately more complicated than not being trans, Critical Social Justice would say that emotional labor is required just to be trans (in a cisnormative society), and, of course, it would be noted that this emotional labor is in no way compensated by said society (but probably should be). This second example is particularly interesting because it sometimes results in the claim that trans and other gender-nonconforming people are “literally” doing the emotional labor of producing gender (i.e., making it meaningful by transgressing and challenging it, as otherwise it would merely be a peculiar facet of sex), which they do not believe they are being duly recognized or supported for doing.
The expansion of the concept of emotional labor in this regard seems to have begun in the early 1990s, which is roughly when queer Theory started to develop and feminism started to be partly subsumed by gender studies, though it wasn’t from these veins of thought that the expansion emerged. At the time, the argument was made that emotional labor was gendered particularly because of its important role in the rapidly growing service industry, which predominantly employed, affected, and made these demands of women. This seems to have been a further development of a distinctly Marxian concept from feminism in the early 1980s that sought to describe the problematic capitalist commodification of emotional regulation in the workplace, again especially for women (see also, socialism). Sexism was attributed as the reason that these expectations were placed in an unbalanced fashion upon women, especially as a form of difficult but unpaid (and underappreciated) specialist labor.
How the concept made the jump from the workplace to everyday relationships and states of being appears to be somewhat complicated, with multiple lines of critical scholarship in the 1980s and 1990s taking it up so that it became relatively established “wisdom” by the early 2000s. It seems quite clear that within queer Theory and gender studies, the concept piggybacked from the workplace into everyday life and states of being on the back of Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity, which explains that doing gender is a performative process. This concept would also explain that it takes (emotional) work to do one’s gender, particularly when one does not feel like one’s gender (or sexuality, or sex) is accepted or represented within heteronormative, cisnormative, homophobic, and/or transphobic society (see also, normativity and violence of categorization). In this conception of emotional labor, merely having negative and stressful emotions, usually connected to identity and work relevant to doing identity politics, even if self-generated, is considered to be a form of labor that is usually unrecognized and uncompensated.
The notion also begins to appear in black feminist and critical race Theory thought by the 1990s, talking about the emotional labor required both to be black (see also, acting white, double consciousness, and blackness) and to explain racism to white people. This has recently developed into the concept of “epistemic exploitation,” which indicates that it is, in fact, a form of exploitation for white people to ask people of color, especially black people, to explain racism to them because it is to their own benefit (see also, good white). This is usually invoked after explaining to white people that they must learn about racism from people who experience it (see also, lived experience, ways of knowing, and racial knowledge, and also epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence). The continual experience of microaggressions (better known as slights) is also sometimes deemed to be a cause of having to do emotional labor—in being expected to suppress frustration, hurt, and anger in response to them—in contemporary Theory.
Within critical pedagogy, emotional labor is a concept that gets rather a lot of attention. It Theorized, for example, that the challenge of explaining oppression or of merely being a member of a minoritized group to dominant and privileged groups takes an emotional toll (sometimes by claiming this forces them to live their trauma, meaning the “trauma” of being oppressed and experiencing oppression). This is where the concept of epistemic exploitation becomes most relevant because students or teachers in minoritized groups who wish to educate or are called upon to testify about privilege and oppression are thereby having their emotional labor exploited by the members of the dominant groups in the classroom setting.
Critical pedagogy also devotes a significant amount of attention to Theorizing ways in which critical educators have an increased workload in terms of emotional labor, both in presenting and facilitating these sensitive topics and, more importantly, in having to manage and deal with inevitable student resistance to these presentations (see also, white fragility, privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, epistemic friction, and pedagogy of discomfort). This—the systematic irritation of students by making everything about identity as an “educational” experience and many of them not liking it—is specifically Theorized to exact an additional unpaid emotional toll on the educators perpetrating this form of ideologically motivated emotional blackmail on their classes. This is Theorized to be because activists of this sort tend to care too much (as can be read in an example below), which is probably true.
Certainly, by the early 2010s, the concept of emotional labor applying to merely being or especially having to talk about being a member of any minoritized group had taken firm root and had become standard throughout intersectional Critical Social Justice thought. This view, which is how the concept is most frequently invoked from Critical Social Justice scholars and especially activists at present, has to be understood like every other concept in Critical Social Justice: as the result of systemic power dynamics that allegedly operate on every level of society. The state of being in any oppressed or marginalized position and having to explain this state of being (as a part of one’s critical, antiracist, or other activist work) to people in relatively privileged positions is deemed to be a form of emotional labor (which probably should be compensated) within the oppressive system (see also, status quo). One may notice that this emotional labor would mostly go away with dropping the Theory-based imperative to constantly do the work of Critical Social Justice activism, but we do not intend to linger on this obvious point or the other most blatant one: that this work isn’t compensated because it doesn’t produce anything of value.
Acting white; Antiracism; Black feminist; Blackness; Capitalism; Cisnormative; Complicity; Critical; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Critical Theory; Dominance; Double consciousness; Epistemic exploitation; Epistemic friction; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression, Epistemic violence; Erasure; Exploitation; Feminism; Gender; Gender (v.), Gender nonconforming; Gender performativity; Gender studies; Genocide; Good white; Heteronormative; Homophobia; Humanity; Identity; Identity politics; Injustice; Intersectionality; Lived experience; Marginalization; Marxian; Microaggression; Minoritize; Normal; Normativity; Oppression; Patriarchy; Pedagogy of discomfort; People of color; Positionality; Postmodern; Power (systemic); Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Problematic; Problematize; Queer Theory; Racial knowledge; Racism (systemic); Sex; Sexism (systemic); Sexuality; Social Justice; Socialism; Status quo; Theory; Transphobia; Trauma; Violence; Violence of categorization; Ways of knowing; White; White fragility
Source: Ioanide, Paula. “Negotiating Privileged Students’ Affective Resistances: Why a Pedagogy of Emotional Engagement Is Necessary,” in Crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams, Luke Charles Harris, Daniel Martinez HoSang, and George Lipsitz (eds.), Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness Across the Disciplines. University of California Press, 2019, p. 348.
I realize that my arguments are implicated in the dangers of recentering hetero-patriarchal whiteness, and thereby reifying the power of the very object I seek to critique. I nonetheless proceed to develop these ideas because anti-racist feminist educators can rarely avoid the problem of advantaged students’ refusals and spend a great amount of emotional labor dealing with it both inside and outside the classroom. It is understandable why educators, particularly feminist educators of color, might want to “give up” on advantaged students and instead channel their energy toward students who show a willingness to learn. Holding these reservations, my hope is that learning to understand and better navigate advantaged students’ affective logics ultimately offers sustenance to educators committed to the long struggle of social justice.
Source: Sullivan, Shannon. “Ontological Expansiveness.” In Weiss, Gail, Ann V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon (eds.) 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology. Northwestern University Press, 2020, pp. 252–253.
Ahmed’s story helps illuminate connections between white people’s ontological expansiveness and their psychological and emotional fragility when it comes to matters of race. As Robin DiAngelo explains, white fragility is “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” White people generally are accustomed to not having to think about race or racism, and thus they have very little stamina to persist in situations that make them feel uncomfortable because of something related to their or another person’s race. Their assumed entitlement to racial comfort is one of the key factors that contribute to white fragility, and the white habit of ontological expansiveness enacts that entitlement spatially.
The result, as evidenced by the aggressive white conference participant, is an inability to undergo a racial experience in which one’s whiteness is challenged. When such a challenge occurs, fragile white people tend either to lash out defensively or to flee, enacting a racialized version of the flight-or-fight response. In turn, white fragility tends to strengthen habits of ontological expansiveness, creating a vicious circle. The white person without sufficient racial grit or resilience is likely to demand her psychological and emotional comfort no matter what space she is in. She is accustomed to a certain amount of psychic freedom in which she does not have to devote any emotional or psychological energy to thinking about how to engage in situations that critically foreground her whiteness. This frees up her energy to be spent on “things that matter” from a white class privileged perspective—that is, not race or racism—and forces the psychic labor of managing racial spaces onto people of color.
We encounter this transference of labor in Ahmed’s description of the repeated, careful work that the six people of color had to do in the caucus meeting to convey their desire that it be a white-free space. This was valuable energy that would not have to be expended in this space if it were not for white people’s ontological expansiveness. It also was precious time in a brief session spent by people of color managing intrusive white people, time that would have been better spent on the joy, relief, humor, and stories that Ahmed reports were exchanged and enjoyed after the white people finally left. Here we see in a concrete way the toll that white habits of ontological expansiveness take on the psychosomatic health and overall well-being of people of color. The care that they often have to take managing white people’s emotional lives, ensuring that white people feel comfortable, is time, energy, and psychic labor stolen from people of color’s self-care, including care of communities, homes, families, and other spaces of color. One of the brutal ironies of ontological expansiveness is that even though it requires people of color to manage white people’s emotional lives, making white people dependent on them, white people experience that management as their own, independent psychic freedom. The black and brown emotional labor that undergirds white psychic “freedom” tends to be invisible to white people and, moreover, to be interpreted by them as hostility on the part of people of color when people of color refuse to perform it.
Source: Manne, Kate. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 128–129.
For all the apparent jumble, the give/take model offers a surprisingly simple way of unifying the phenomena, and produces a theory that makes good and concrete (and, importantly, falsifiable) predictions here, given the addition of the foregoing distinction between what is deemed
- Hers to give (feminine-coded goods and services): attention, affection, admiration, sympathy, sex, and children (i.e., social, domestic, reproductive, and emotional labor); also mixed goods, such as safe haven, nurture, security, soothing, and comfort; versus
- His for the taking (masculine-coded perks and privileges): power, prestige, public recognition, rank, reputation, honor, “face,” respect, money and other forms of wealth, hierarchical status, upward mobility, and the status conferred by having a high-ranking woman’s loyalty, love, devotion, etc.
Given this, it turns out that most of the cases of misogyny canvassed so far, and that will be canvassed in what follows, can be brought under the heading of one of the following two complementary social norms for women:
- She is obligated to give feminine-coded services to someone or other, preferably one man who is her social equal or better (by the lights of racist, classist, as well as heteronormative values, in many contexts), at least insofar as he wants such goods and services from her.
- She is prohibited from having or taking masculine-coded goods away from dominant men (at a minimum, and perhaps from others as well), insofar as he wants or aspires to receive or retain them.
Source: Gorski, Paul C., and Cher Chen. “‘Frayed All Over’: The Causes and Consequences of Activist Burnout Among Social Justice Education Activists.” Educational Studies, 51(5): 2015, 385–405, p. 385.
According to Goodwin and Pfaff (2001), activists, people whose passions and identities are wrapped up in social causes, are especially susceptible to burnout because they tend to invest considerable amounts of what Hochschild (1983) described as emotional labor into their activist work. This emotional investment makes activists vulnerable to feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, and discouraged—feelings that, over time, can culminate in burnout (Kovan & Dirkx, 2003). Scholars who have examined the phenomenon of burnout of activists whose activism is tied to social justice causes, including labor rights, racial justice, gender justice, peace, or queer justice, have suggested that, even when compared with other activists, they are at a particularly high risk of burnout (Maslach & Gomes, 2006; Plyler, 2006).
Revision date: 7/13/20