The Paradoxes of Capitalism and Emotions

The Lucerne Master Class takes place from September 23rd to 27th 2019 with Prof. Dr. Eva Illouz (Hebrew University of Jerusalem/ École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris). It is the fifth Lucerne Master Class running on the general topic "The Culture of Markets". While the Lucerne Master Class is open only to the young researchers previously selected as participants on a competitive basis, the general public is invited to Eva Illouz's public talk "What is Capitalist Subjectivity?" on Tuesday, September 24th (6.15 p.m., room HS 09, main building of University of Lucerne).

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The Paradoxes of Capitalism and Emotions

For economists capitalism is the organization of economic exchange in a marketplace regulated by supply and demand in which actors plan their moves rationally. For traditional sociologists it is a social organization which disentangles the economy from normative systems and creates a vast process of rationalization of the economy and of ordinary action. But capitalism has proved to be, and curiously so, a fantastic machine to produce, control, and commodify emotions. The process of commodification of emotions is pervasive and endemic to the history and sociology of capitalism.

This course will examine the ways in which emotions were made into intrinsic dimensions of the workplace and of the consumer sphere. It examines this process by studying the paradoxes produced by this historical juncture of emotions and capitalism. Five main paradoxes are examined:

1) The emergence of capitalism was accompanied by the institutionalization of self-interest; yet it also marked the emergence of a private sphere saturated with emotions.
2) The leisure industries and the sciences of marketing targeted the social actor as a hedonic subject, thus commodifying desire and subjectivity. This has in turn intensified the romantic bond.
3) Capitalism has produced a new form of commodity, the emodity, or emotional commodity. Emodities have in turn made authenticity into the chief moral vector for the development of the self.
4) Happiness psychologists and economists have joined forces to change policy and introduce ‘happiness indexes’ to measure the state of the nation. Happiness – once thought to be a radical demand of the Enlightenment – is now joining forces with neo-liberalism to transform notions of selfhood and privatize risk.
5) Choice is the key legitimating motive of capitalism; yet choice increasingly undermines the very notion of rational subjectivity which was supposed to have been at the heart of the rational subject.


Eva Illouz | Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Eva Illouz was born in Morocco, educated in France, and received her higher degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She is Rose Isaac Chair of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Center for the Study of Rationality, and holds a Chair of Excellence at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. Her groundbreaking oeuvre on capitalism and emotions includes her monograph Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation (2012), a book she edited titled Emotions as Commodities: Capitalism, Consumption and Authenticity (2018) and her forthcoming monograph Unloving: A Sociology of Negative Relations (first published in German under the title Warum Liebe endet – Eine Soziologie negativer Beziehungen [2018]).

Organization and Location

The fifth Lucerne Master Class takes place from 23 September to 27 September 2019 in a panorama meeting room at Hotel Seeburg in Lucerne.