Disimpassioned Monks and Flying Nuns: Emotion Management in Early Medieval Rules
By Albrecht Diem
Funktionsräume, Wahrnehmungsräume, Gefühlsräume. Mittelalterliche Lebensformen zwischen Kloster und Hof, edited by Christina Lutter (Böhlau/ Oldenbourg, 2011)
Introduction: What do a monastery and an airplane have in common? Both are closed communities; there is no way out (at least after the plane has started). Both are regulated by rules different from those followed in the world outside. In both cases there is a clear sense of hierarchy and a common goal. Entering a monastery should bring us closer to paradise; a plane should bring us to some sort of holiday paradise (if not, we end up at a conference).
There are, however, also some differences: a plane trip usually cakes a couple of hours, which makes bearable the rules imposed on us, the enforced asceticism, and the spatial limitations (which, of course, depend on the airline). Entering a monastery means committing oneself to living a restricted life in a closed community for the rest of one’s earthly existence, and this individual commitment is only a short episode in the long life of an institution that is organized and endowed with the purpose of existing until the end of time.
The sociologist Airlie Hochschild uses the example of flight attendants to exemplify her mode! of what she calls “emotion work” and ,emotion management”. Instead of assuming that destructive emotions and their outward expression simply have to be suppressed, she investigates how in many work-spheres positive feelings are shaped by a conscious and strictly regulated outward acting.
For Hochschild, the relation between feeling and acting is not a one-way road. Certain behavior – imposed and self-imposed – evokes feelings, nor only on chose within one’s surrounding, but also within the one who aces. Flight attendants are trained to smile in order to shape a pleasant atmosphere and to create happiness, which eventually affects themselves and brings them into a state of happiness, which lasts as long as the specific constellation, but inevitably creates painful tensions between the artificial yet genuine state of mind of being on duty and off-duty. For Hochschild, these mechanisms are part of a system of capitalise repression; in our case, her model appears to be useful for understanding the way in which monastic communities learned to organize themselves and how they “managed” those emotions that endangered but also facilitated their existence.