This article examines the emotional labour of digital influencers to extend our understanding of the processes of transmutation of workers’ emotional systems. According to Hochschild (2012) transmutation occurs when workers’ emotional systems are engineered into commercial and organizational settings for economic profit. To date much work has been carried out within formal organizational settings on “surface acting”, which often leads to self-abuse, burnout and depersonalisation, and “deep acting”, which is associated with feelings of personal freedom. We use a multi-sited ethnography of digital influencers’ emotional work practices to show how so-called “person-brands” labour on the self through dialectical process between emancipating one’s person brand and exploiting oneself. We suggest a new mode of emotional labour in which transmutation happens in practices where influencers display their private actions to the public and where they transfer commercial agendas into their private realm and exploit their selves. Consequently, digital influencers work under the condition that they must self-exploit to succeed, and we demonstrate how they do this in seven distinct work-practices. While we suggest self-exploitation to be a condition of digital influencers’ work, we question whether this is a boundary condition in the transformation to become more powerful person-brands where work becomes more individualized.
Bibliographical noteEpub ahead of print. Published online: October 7, 2023.
- Emotional labour
- Influencer marketing
- Digital labour