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Emotions at Work – Working on Emotions: The Production of Economic Selves in Twentieth-Century Germany

This project investigates the relationship between capitalist and emotional practices in 20th century industrial labor.

Project No. G 204

Sabine Donauer

How does a human being feel at work? Do feelings like boredom and fatigue impinge on work performance? How do human relations affect work output?

With the advent of industrialization, these and related questions were given increasing attention. On the one hand, the momentum of the labor movement brought about the question how the emotion of ‘class hatred’ could be replaced by a feeling of belonging to the ‘factory family’. On the other hand, the rising interest in the emotions of the workers can be attributed to efforts to increase work performance: The rationalization movement of the 1920s was the founding moment of the idea that the ‘happy’ worker is all the more ‘productive’. The constitution of this link gave rise to the development of new scientific disciplines. Occupational science, labor sociology as well as work psychology started to create knowledge about how the inner life of the worker could be interwoven with the requirements of industrial production.

The project analyzes this development pursuing the following key questions: How were emotions conceptionalized in the above mentioned disciplines? How did this scientific knowledge translate into corporate emotional norms and practices? How did processes of psychologization and work performance enhancement change the evaluation and expression of emotions at work? These questions will be answered by using publications from the occupational sciences as well as source material from corporate archives.




Prof. Dr. Ute Frevert

Prof. Dr. Paul Nolte