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Eva Illouz

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Saturday, Jun 5, 2010

I’ve been meaning to read sociologist Eva Illouz’s books for a while now. She writes about “emotional capitalism”—the production and trading in affect that is a big part of the service-based economy and obviously a concept that fits well with the immaterial-labor theme I’ve mentioned here a lot. (Speaking of which, this article by the guy who did Marmaduke Explained is a pretty good illustration of immaterial labor—how the internet gets used to inadvertently add value to products, and how this sort of work affects identity. It’s a case study in how one can become “responsible to the Internet” as he puts it.) In emotional capitalism, the product is cooperation, or friendship, or intimacy rationalized into measurable things. Social networks are on the cutting edge of capitalizing on these products, refining and furthering their reification.


Anyway, this interview in Guernica with Illouz (via 3QD) makes me want to get started on her books today. In the interview she makes a point about how technology increases the salience of choice at the expense of what earlier generations experienced as passion:


in the internet research I show that technology undermines what nineteenth century people called passion because of the way technology forces you to manage your relationships in a completely rational way and because of the way in which it creates a blasé attitude and cynical attitude towards the encounter. It’s the choice, the possibility of choice that changes completely the experience of passion because passion was based on scarcity.


Passion has perhaps been changed by the ever-present options into the experience of options itself—we thrill at the array, at options being left open, rather than love making us feel as we have no other choice. Certainly, love as destiny is still celebrated in culture-industry product and in culture generally, but that seems to have an escapist air of nostalgia to it—something more and more people want only vicariously.


Another interesting question raised: Can emotions be separated from the institutions developed to prompt and contain them? What happens when emotions are end products rather than orienting responses to situations? What guides our affect in the moment then, if we have made emotions into outcomes? Do we then need institutions to protect us from needing emotional guidance from moment to moment? Questions in a world of blue.


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