Can we feel capitalism? Reflecting the relationship between emotions and late capitalism (by Florian Schulz) For some time now I have been trying to understand how we come to feel the way we feel and my investigations into the matter have lead me from an individualized Clinical Psychology to the field of Organizational Psychology. Organizational psychology, at least in my understanding, asks how people are consciously or unconsciously part of such social processes which e.g. lead to the creation of new institutions, the upholding of routines or the disruption of established practices. It is here that I got to know the works of the sociologist Arlie Hochschild and ever since reading her seminal book The managed heart: commercialization of human feeling (1985) I have become fascinated by the question how emotions are socially organized and constructed. On the other hand, I will admit that I have long struggled with the term ‘capitalism’ due to its proximity to classical marxist theory in which THE capitalist exploits the working class. While I can still see this happening elsewhere (sorry iphone fans, this goes your way) I have always found classical Marxist analysis of capitalism hard to translate into the network of experiences that surround me. So, over the last years I have rather come to see many examples of people happily exploiting themselves to the point of distress rather than being exploited by controlling bosses. It is then only recently, in a seminar by the sociologist Eva Illouz, that I have come to recognize capitalism as a conception that can help explain emotions. The point brought up by Eva Illouz is that contemporary capitalism, which she calls emotional capitalism, has formed a new discursive outline in which the boundaries between performative work life and emotional intimate life have become demarcated. Capitalism has become a taken for granted framework through which we narrate and evaluate large parts of our lives. Illouz puts this as follows: » In emotional capitalism, emotional and economic discourses mutually shape one another so that affect is made an essential aspect of economic behavior, and emotional life, especially that of the middle classes, follows the logic of economic relations and exchange. « (Eva Illouz, Saving the modern soul, 2008, p. 60) It is again Arlie Hochschild who has given us a number of empirically illustrations of these processes of deteriorating demarcations in her books: The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (1989). The commercialization of intimate life: Notes from home and work (2003) or The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times (2012). In essence we can state that capitalism has become more complex and ambivalent and as I have come to learn from Nigel Thrift, capitalism might be understood as a vitality that constantly moves to create potentialities by assembling all sorts of hybrids, amalgams and translations with realms of life that have so far not been associated with the capitalist ethos. In the patent words of Thrift: » Long ago now, Marx depicted capitalism as dead labour haunting the living, but I am not sure that this is an adequate description, for it gives credence to the notion of capitalism as a deadening force when, increasingly, capitalism has a kind of unholy vitality, a kind of double duty, to possess but also to create, to accumulate but also to overflow, to organize but also to improvise. « (Nigel Thrift, Knowing Capitalism, 2005, p.17) So, late capitalism is „unholy“ as it crosses boundaries that were once considered holy (working sundays, answering work emails in bed, having McDonalds organize our children's birthday party, etc.). But, capitalism is also vital as it forms potentialities through its strive to barter with new technologies and practices and bring out new markets. It has brought us all sorts of things we have come to love and feel good about (working sundays in cafes, answering work emails in bed with our ipads, the stressless child's birthday party at McDonalds, etc.). To name only a few examples I think illustrate the fusion of the capitalist ethos with emotional and intimate life - follow the links to find out more. - Doing coaching to be able to more professional so that ones neurotic feelings get in the way of ones career ambitions - Doing yoga and meditating - but doing it to be a more productive worker - Talking about relationships in economic metaphors: „He really fit the bill“ - Feeling anxious when forced to be offline This said, I would now like to ask you, the reader, to join in on a little thought experiment. Let us, for a moment think of THE capitalist - that character who strives to maximize profit, who exploits the existing resources along the way and who accumulates wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth - as a voice inside of us. Lets also assume it's a voice we seldom consciously acknowledge because it is more of a persuasive whisper rather than a loud and radical roar. Also, lets imagine this voice is a communicative one, one that is in conversation with other facets of ourselves as it cleverly promotes its merits. This given, you might consider how this voice echos out and accompanies you throughout the day, evaluates the things you do, shapes how you feel about things and how it manages to draw you into its spell or how you resist. Does this affect the way we feel...? I end with more questions: What are movements and spaces which try to juxtapose the capitalist ethos? What lies on the borders of capitalism? What about movements like Slow food , Street art, Couchsurfing or Parcour ? ... or are these immediately drawn into the capitalist ethos like almost all fashions? And what about the everyday and the mundane....? If you can think of more examples or want to share your reading of this text, please drop me a line. I have been inspired to these thoughts through three events which all took place here at the University of St. Gallen: the Haniel Seminars on emotions; a conference organized by Jörg Mettelmann and Scott Loren titled „After the tears - Victimhood and Subjectivity in the Melodramatic Mode“ and the KIM lecture by Arlie Hochschild on her new book „The Outsourced Self“ to be published in 2012.