Frozen Intimacies (2007) is the title of the work in which the sociologist Eva Illouz proposes to analyze the emotions in the instrumentalization of them by capitalism 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 affection, the author composes the aforementioned work through the three conferences that will be reviewed. The first of the lectures is entitled The emergence of the homo sentimentalis .

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What are emotions (and their role in capitalism)

Illouz begins by considering emotions as an intersection between “cultural meanings and social relations” which, by simultaneously compromising “cognition, affect, evaluation, motivation and body”, involve a condensation of energy capable of making human action possible.

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

A new emotional style

At the beginning of the 20th century, and by means of the diffusion of the therapeutic discourse promoted by clinical psychology, “a new emotional style” spread, consisting of “a new way of thinking about the relationship of the self with others”. The main elements to be considered by this “new interpersonal imagination” of psychoanalytic type were

  1. The crucial role played by the nuclear family in the formation of the self.
  2. The importance of everyday events in the configuration of the normal and the pathological.
  3. The centrality of sex , sexual pleasure and sexuality in a linguistically structured imagination.

From the 1920s onwards, this new emotional style spread mainly through what Illouz calls “advice literature”. But although the psychoanalytic style provided “the vocabularies through which the self is understood” in a manifestly omnipresent vocation, it ended up being especially functional to the business environment, contributing both to the emotional management of workers’ lives and to the systematization and rationalization of their activities during the productive process.

The role of psychology in business management

The author maintains that “the language of psychology was very successful in shaping the discourse of business individuality” insofar as it contributed to neutralizing the class struggle by displacing labor conflicts towards the emotional framework related to the worker’s personality .

In any case, the uses of psychology in the business environment should not be understood only as a subtle mechanism of control by management, since they also established “assumptions 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”, whose basis is found in the search for empathy on the part of the interlocutors.

Thus, the communicative skill that allows social recognition ended up being a strategy through which to achieve business objectives in such a way that the knowledge of the emotions of others through communication would facilitate professional competence practices, while mitigating the uncertainties related to the advent of a flexible production mode. Illouz sums it up this way: “emotional capitalism reorganized emotional cultures and made the economic individual become emotional and emotions were linked more closely to instrumental action”.

The role of psychology in the family environment

After “promoting efficiency and social harmony in business”, psychology penetrated the family sphere in order to extend “the market of therapeutic services” to a middle class that, from the second half of the 20th century, increased considerably in the advanced capitalist countries. Likewise, therapeutic psychology was supported by the rise of feminism from the 1970s , whose main concerns were centred on the family and sexuality.

Both psychology and feminism contributed to making public, and therefore political, what had been lived as personal and private until now.

This attitude shared by the therapeutic and feminist discourse with regard to the “ideal of intimacy” was based on the equality between the members of an affective relationship, so that “pleasure and sexuality [were] based on the implementation of a fair conduct and on the affirmation and preservation of the fundamental rights of women”.

The rationalization of emotional relationships

As a consequence of a new egalitarian paradigm in intimate relationships, there was a tendency to systematize in a methodical and rational way the values and beliefs of the members of the couple . Consequently, “intimate life and emotions [became] measurable and calculable objects, which can be translated into quantitative statements”.

The rationalization of intimate relationships based on the questioning of the emotional ties on which they are based led to the transformation of such relationships “into cognitive objects that can be compared with each other and be subject to a cost-benefit analysis”. Subtracted from their particularity, depersonalized and subject to a process of commensuration, the relationships assumed a condition of indetermination and transience .

Bibliographic references:

  • Illouz, Eva. (2007). Frozen Intimacies. Emotions in Capitalism. Katz Editors (p.11-92).