Sociology 250

November 25, 1999

Notes on Hochschild and Ethnomethodology


C. Additional Notes on Goffman

1. Goffman primarily analyzes the interaction order, constituting day-to-day and face-to-face interaction among acting individuals. Recognizes other orders and the structures associated with class, power, norms and roles, but considers these flexib le. Goffman is interested in how these are carried out in practice, that is, how the roles are performed, and it is the flexibility of these that characterizes daily life and is the expression of individual personalities. Social change and social mobility may also result from these aspects of role performance, although Goffman does not focus on this. But where a role is interpreted in many ways, or norms are stretched, this may lead to new roles and norms. For the individual, structures are a constraint, but they also present opportunities, and it is in role performance that these opportunities may be expressed.

2. At the same time, Goffman does not connect the interaction order to other orders, such as the structures of society or intermediate level organizations, institutions, or systems. In that sense, Goffman’s analysis is incomplete, although it may be no less complete than writers who analyze structures but have little to say about the interaction order. Exactly how the two are connected is one problem that emerges. It is this connection which is the concern of the structure/agency debate in sociology.

3. The interaction approach is concerned with the interaction order, because it is here that society carries on and is reproduced – in our daily activities. This reproduction is not necessarily in direct correspondence with the larger structures though . That is, not all role enactment is an aspect of reproduction of structures – e.g. family roles are flexible and maintain family structures, but also alter them and provide a variety of family structure forms. It is important for sociologists to examine the assumptions underlying the interaction order (ethnomethodology) and consider how it works (symbolic interaction) in order to understand the larger structures. After all, it is the patterns and regularities that emerge from the myriad day-to-day intera ctions that constitute the structures of society. It is especially important to analyze these in a society with rapid social change and with high social mobility, since it is the performance of individuals in the interaction order that results in changes in these structures.

4. The symbolic interaction perspective did not explicitly consider women, and some feminists viewed this approach as male dominated, expressing how present structures of power are maintained through human interaction in the interaction order. Conflict theorists who consider the exercise of power as basic to understanding social relationships might have a similar approach. That is, symbolic interaction approaches tend to consider participants in the interaction order as more or less equal participants. This is not always the case for Goffman’s analysis, but the basic assumptions and methods of symbolic interactionists do not include power differentials. But this approach has proven to be flexible, and some more recent forms of symbolic interaction anal ysis have included situations where there is coercion, power differentials, or other forms of inequality. Goffman did some of this (asylums, prisons, male-female relations) and more recent contributions have come from Arlie Hochschild and Norman Denzin.

D. Emotions and Feelings

The study of emotions and feelings became a more important part of sociology beginning in the 1970s, following the development of the women’s movement. Wallace and Wolf (pp. 239-241) note how some emotions were considered by earlier sociologists, a lthough the rational decision-making process associated with nineteenth century enlightenment man of Weber, Marx, and Durkheim left little room for emotions and feelings. Parsons, with his pattern variables and system needs, also left little room for emot ions. Simmel and the early symbolic interaction theorists did not pay much attention to emotions and feelings, although Wallace and Wolf note how these might be implicit in self indication and the conversation with the self. Emotions might easily be regar ded as part of the interpretation process, and what is meaningful could involve these – for example, grief at a funeral, affection and love in attraction between two people, or anger expressed in an obscene gesture.

Goffman pays some attention to emotions by focussing on impression management, considering how people present positive impressions and attempt to avoid embarrassment or contradiction between the front and back regions. Even in the merry-go-round, the h appiness of the child, the embarrassment of a young teenager, or the detachment of an adult are all expressions of some emotional aspects of the individual in a particular situation. Goffman also notes how all this is work, and Wallace and Wolf develop th is further based on Randall Collins analysis of emotional labour (pp. 240-241). Positive sentiments toward others are an aspect of social interaction, although individuals may have to work at these positive sentiments. Being accepted in a group extends th e emotional resources of the group to the individual.

It is Arlie Hochschild who develops these ideas more fully, considering a full range of emotions (bottom of p. 241). Hochschild is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has established the sociology of emotions as a field of study . This can be considered to be an interactionist perspective, although one that makes emotions and feeling a central focus of her study. She argues that emotions are social and can act as signals concerning the relation between the environment and the sel f. In that sense, emotions may be similar to symbols, and our ability to manage emotions is based on our expectations, which in turn are based on our experiences. In the interaction perspective, our emotions act as part of the interpretive process, and th e emotions that have become part of the social self are a means by which we interpret stimuli and develop a response.

While emotions and feelings may be considered natural and beyond our control, they are also social. Through the socialization process, each of us learns what are proper expressions of emotions and feeling, although there is great flexibility in how we manage these. For example, males are not supposed to express sorrow or grief by crying, but even those males in positions where they are not supposed to show emotions are allowed to express a certain degree of anger, in fact some anger might be expected i n certain circumstances. Each of us alters our emotions and feelings as we interact socially with others, modifying how we express these, and in doing so we likely alter and modify our own emotions and feelings.

Hochschild also introduces the idea of control or management of emotions by others, including institutions and, more specifically, commercial enterprises. Wallace and Wolf (p. 242) note that certain emotions can be expressed to the public and in the se rvice sector workers are required to provide some expressions as part of the sale. Or it may be the emotion itself which is part of the service. Hochschild uses Marx’s notion of use-value and exchange value, noting that the expression of emotions is alway s work in the sense that there is an expenditure of human energy in showing sympathy, trust, good feelings, or in other situations distrust or suspicion. Emotional work in the private sphere has a use-value, for example in the family it is useful to have affection, love, tenderness, toughness, etc. In the commercial sector, emotions can sometimes be sold and have an exchange value – grief and compassion (funeral home), anxiety (life insurance salesman), nostalgia (antiques, baseball cards), trust and happ iness (smiles and greetings at WalMart).

Wallace and Wolf (p. 242) note that jobs requiring emotional labour have three aspects to them. First, they are face-to-face or have voice contact. Second, the employee is required to produce a particular emotional state in others, for example, fear, g ratitude, happiness, good feelings, etc. Third, since the workers are hired to produce these feelings, the employer exercises some control over the emotional activities of employees. The employee is attempting to manage emotions of customers, and employer s in turn are managing the emotional activities of employees. In some cases, this begins to alter the actual emotions or feelings of the employees. This happens through "emotive dissonance" whereby strains develop between what the employee actually feels and what the employee is to portray to the public. The employee may attempt to change the latter, but if the latter is dictated by the employer, the employee may begin to change what they feel to coincide with what the employer wishes.

Hochschild’s first study concerned two types of service sector workers – airline flight attendants and bill collectors. In the airline industry, in addition to transporting people, service is what is being sold, with some of the characteristics of this being good service, being on time, safety, friendliness, comfort, and helpfulness. Since airline attendants are the primary employees seen by passengers, airlines take great care to manage their emotions, through selection of appropriate employees and th rough training programs. For Delta Airlines, the company studied by Hochschild,

The image they chose, among many possible ones, was that of a beautiful and smartly dressed Southern white woman, the supposed epitome of gracious manners and warm personal service … The ads promise servce that is "human" and personal. The omnipresent smile suggests, first of all, that the flight attendant is friendly, helpful and open to requests. But when words are added, the smile can be sexualized … As one flight attendant put it: "You have married men with three kids getting on the plane and sudde nly they feel like anything goes. It’s like they leave that reality on the ground, and you fit into their fantasy as some geisha girl. It happens over and over again." (Hochschild, p. 93). 

The emotional expressions of the flight attendants are expected to match these images.


Relax and smile, p. 105.

Passenger’s point of view – bottom, p. 105.

No ridicule – p. 106.

No alarm or fright – p. 107.

Never blame passengers – p. 108.

Like home – p. 109.

Incident – p. 112

No anger – pp. 113-14

Hochschild notes that there are three changes that result.

1. Emotion Work. This is no longer a private act but becomes a public act. Individuals as employees in these situations no longer determine how their emotions are expressed, based on their own selves and judgments. Instead, those who train and supervis e these workers are "paid stage managers who select, train, and supervise others" (p. 119) and those who provide the service are social actors in the sense outlined by Goffman.

2. Feeling Rules. Each of us learns certain rules for managing feelings, rules which differ by social class and sex. These are ordinarily very flexible and the way these are expressed is our personal style and personality. In commercial settings, "feel ing rules are no longer simply matters of personal discretion, negotiated with another person in private but are spelled out publicly" (p. 119) in training manuals and programs.

3. Social exchange is forced into narrow channels … there is much less room for individual navigation of the emotional waters (p. 119).

In doing this, the worker loses a certain amount of control over how the work is done. There are several responses to this. The individual may become a divided self, and then the question is which is the real self. Or the worker may use various coping strategies, using drugs or alcohol, or developing ways of psyching oneself up for the job. Or perhaps making the two selves one. (p. 133).

Hochschild points out how deep acting can become a means of dealing with these situations.

Conclusion on Hochschild and Emotions

Can modify SI analysis to include emotional labour.

Alteration of self through management.


E. Ethnomethodology

An approach that is related to symbolic interactionism is that of ethnomethodology. This can be described as:

Ethnomethodology proposes that the properties of social life which seem objective, factual and transsituational, are actually managed accomplishments or achievements of local processes. ... The aim of ethnomethodological inquiry is to analyze the situa ted conduct of societal members in order to see how "objective" properties of social life are achieved. (West and Fenstermaker, p. 152).  

Ethnomethodologists tend to focus more on activities whereas the symbolic interaction approach focusses more on the meaning and interpretation leading to the act. Ritzer uses Heritage's definition:

the body of commonsense knowledge and the range of procedures and considerations by means of which ordinary members of society make sense of, find their way about in, and act on the circumstances in which they find themselves. (Heritage, p. 4). 

Ritzer notes that in the ethnomethodological approach, action is often seen to be "routine and relatively unreflective." (p. 392). At the same time, each action is work and must be accomplished in everyday life. For Garfinkel, who developed this approa ch, the cognitive processes are less crucial to examine than what the symbolic interaction approach considers. Instead, what should be examined are the "procedures, methods, or practices" (Ritzer, p. 393) whereby social facts are created as individuals ca rry on their daily activities. These ongoing, practical achievements of daily life constitute social facts and are the set of all these achievements constitutes the social order. Note that these are not the external social facts of Durkheim, and they may not be coercive. For the ethnomethodologist, social facts are continually created or achieved by individuals through their actions and interactions.

Ethnomethodology examines some of the very basic and underlying aspects of human action and interaction. Each of us uses a set of basic processes that "create social reality through our thoughts and actions." (Ritzer, p. 393). Many of these are unstate d, not usually thought about, and taken for granted unless someone challenges them or does not conform to them. Turner gives an example of a breaching experiment of the sort proposed by ethnomethodologists. These experiments interrupt the regular course o f interaction.

Subject: I had a flat tire.

Experimenter: What do you mean, you had a flat tire?

Subject: (appears momentarily stunned and then replies in a hostile manner): What do you mean, "What do you mean?" A flat tire is a flat tire. That is what I meant. Nothing special. What a crazy question! 

Such experiments may create anger and frustration and are not recommended for situations with friends. What they do show though is what are some of the background features that are taken for granted, and these show that there is a social order. "Throug h breaching, Garfinkel hoped to discover implicit ethnomethods by forcing actors to actively engage in the process of reality reconstruction after the situation had been disrupted." (Turner, p. 481).

As can be seen in the above example, conversation and the use of language are an important part of interaction, and have many background assumptions built into them. Analyzing conversations is an important part of ethnomethodology. Another method is to create new social settings "in which the investigator can observe humans attempting to assert, create, maintain, or change the rules for constructing the appearance of consensus over the structure of the real world." (Turner, p. 482). An example of the l atter could be the jury situation. Garfinkel and his students analyzed jury decisions are found that the "official rules" were often not the ones that guided all the decisions of juries.

Quotes on Ethnomethodology

1. Definition. "Ethnomethodology proposes that the properties of social life which seem objective, factual and transsituational, are actually managed accomplishments or achievements of local processes." ... The aim of ethnomethodological inquiry is to analyze the situated conduct of societal members in order to see how "objective" properties of social life are achieved. (from West and Fenstermaker, p. 152).

2. Definition. The term 'ethnomethodology' thus refers to the study of a particular subject matter: the body of common-sense knowledge and the range of procedures and considerations by means of which ordinary members of society make sense of, fi nd their way about in, and act on the circumstances in which they find themselves. (Heritage, p. 4)

3. Sociology, the Real World, and Ethnomethodology. In doing sociology, lay and professional, every reference to the "real world," even where the reference is to physical or biological events, is a reference to the organized activities of everyd ay life. Thereby, in contrast to certain versions of Durkheim that teach that the objective reality of social facts is sociology's fundamental principle, the lesson is taken instead, and used as a study policy, that the objective reality of social facts < I>as an ongoing accomplishment of the concerted activities of daily life, with the ordinary, artful ways of that accomplishment being by members known, used, and taken for granted, is, for members doing sociology, a fundamental phenomenon. Because, an d in the ways it is practical sociology's fundamental phenomenon, it is the prevailing topic for ethnomethodological study. Ethnomethodological studies analyze everyday activities as members' methods for making those same activities visibly-rational-and-r eportable-for-all-practical-purposes, i.e., "accountable," as organizations of commonplace everyday activities. The reflexivity of that phenomenon is a singular feature of practical actions, of practical circumstances, of common sense knowledge of social structures, and of practical sociological reasoning. By permitting us to locate and examine their occurrence the relexivity of that phenomenon establishes their study.

Their study is directed to the tasks of learning how members' actual, ordinary activities consist of methods to make practical actions, practical circumstances, common sense knowledge of social structures, and practical sociological reasoning analy zeable; and of discovering the formal properties of common place, practical common sense actions, "from within" actual settings, as ongoing accomplishments of theose settings. (Garfinkel, pp. vii-viii).

4. Breaching Conversations.

Case 6

The victim waved his hand cheerily.

(S) How are you?

(E) How am I in regard to what? My health, my finances, my school work, my peach of mind, my … ?

(S) (Red in the face and suddenly out of control.) Look! I was just trying to be polite. Frankly, I don't give a damn how you are.

(Garfinkel, p. 44).


Case 3. "On Friday night my husband and I were watching television. My husband remarked that he was tired. I asked, "How are you tired? Physically, mentally, or just bored?'"

(S) I don't know, I guess physically, mainly.

(E) You mean that your muscles ache or your bones.

(S) I guess so. Don't be so technical.

(After more watching)

(S) All these old movies have the same kind of old iron bedstead in them.

(E) What do you meand? Do you mena all old moves, or some of them, or just the ones you have seen?

(S) What's the matter with you? You know what I mean.

(E) I wish you would be more specific.

(S) You know what I mean! Drop dead!

(Garfinkel, p. 43).



Husband: Dana succeeded in putting a penny in a parking meter today without being picked up.

Wife: Did you take him to the record store?

Husband: No, to the shoe repair shop.

Wife: What for?

Husband: I got some new shoe laces for my shoes.

Wife: Your loafers need new heels badly.

(Heritage, pp. 93-94).


A: I have a fourteen-year-old -son.

B: Well that's alright.

A: I also have a dog.

B: Oh I'm sorry.

(Heritage, p. 237).




Garfinkel, Harold, Studies in Ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967.

Heritage, John, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1984.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983.

Sharrock, W., "Individual and Society," in R. J. Anderson, J. A. Hughes and W. W. Sharrock, Classic Disputes in Sociology. HM51 C54.

Sharrock, W. and B. Anderson, The Ethnomethodologists HM24 S424

Turner, Jonathan H., The Structure of Sociological Theory, fifth edition, Belmont, Ca., Wadsworth, 1991. HM24 T84

West, Candace and Sarah Fenstermaker, "Power, Inequality, and the Accomplishment of Gender: An Ethnomethodological View," in Paula England, editor, Theory on Gender / Feminism on Theory, New York, Aldine de Gruyter,1993, pp. 151-174.


Last edited on November 26, 1999.

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