The effects of emotion structuration

Masking the need for cultural change: the effects of emotion structuration

Jamie L. Callahan


This study explores the ways in which the expression and management of emotion influence organizational action. The interview sample consisted of 21 volunteer leaders of a non-profit professional association. The triangulated design included interviews, observations, and document analyses. Emotion expression was primarily associated with externally oriented organizational actions, such as mission; emotion management was primarily associated with internally oriented organizational actions, such as culture. This expression and management combined to form a reciprocal connection between the volunteers and the organization that resulted in emotion structuration that masked the need for the organization to consider cultural change.

Descriptors: emotion management, structuration, culture, change, non-profit


Now, in the early years of the 21st century, the ‘silence on feelings in organizational theory’ (Albrow 1992) that dominated the 20th century has been transformed into a new awareness of the importance of emotions in organizational life. Beginning primarily with Hochschild’s groundbreaking work on emotion management among airline attendants, work in the sociology of emotions began to influence the study of organizations in the latter decades of the 20th century. The majority of the empirical work has focused on demonstrating or understanding the emergence and existence of emotion and emotion management in a variety of organizational contexts (e.g. Pogrebin and Poole 1991; Rafaeli and Sutton 1991; Martin et al. 1998; Tumbull 1999). More recently, however, the exploration of emotions as a social phenomenon has been expanded to include the relationship between emotions and organizational-level phenomena (e.g. Vince and Broussine 1996; Callahan 2000).

While Vince and Broussine (1996) explore the role of emotions during organizational change processes, the present study broadens the lens on the role of emotion in influencing organization. I start from the position that emotions act as the ‘primary signalling system that organizes interactions’ (Johnson 1998: 5) among individuals in social systems such as organizations. The findings presented here suggest that it is both the expression and the management of these emotions that drives this organizing phenomenon, the very strength of which may even preclude the idea of embarking on an organizational change effort.

The present study was part of a larger project that sought to understand the reasons why staff members and volunteer leaders in a non-profit organization (NPO) managed their expression or experience of emotions (Fabian 1998). Typical organizational life is certainly seen in the context of a volunteer non-profit organization; however, what essentially makes non-profit and for-profit organizations different are the reasons for which they are in business. For-profit organizations are primarily characterized by a financial ‘bottom-line’; whereas, NPOs are primarily characterized by a common value-driven goal (Croswell 1996; Smith 1997). Because they are grounded in common values, which generally contain emotional elements (Etzioni 1988), the expressive dimension is a driving factor in NPOs (Mason 1996). As such, NPOs can be considered ‘pattern-maintenance organizations’ (Parsons 1956b) that serve the larger society in the sense that they are based upon the institutionalization of values. NPOs are characterized by voluntary action (Hall 1994; Croswell 1996; Hayes 1996); people join NPOs because they ‘fulfill both our desire to act and our desire to accomplish’ (Mason 1996: xi). The expressive dimension so fundamental to NPOs made this type of organization particularly useful for studying the phenomenon of emotion management.

The present study describes the relationship between the management and expression of emotion and the culture of a non-profit organization affiliated with a branch of the US military. The structuration resulting from the interplay of emotion expression and emotion management among organizational members was masking discontent with the culture, particularly among those in less dominant groups. This emotion structuration led the organization to maintain the comfortable culture it had established during its fifty-year history. By focusing on the organizational culture, this paper highlights that emotion structuration can form a potential barrier to organizational change. The conceptual framework of the study incorporated two systems theory approaches, Parsons’ General Theory of Action in social systems (1951) and Hochschild’s Emotion Systems Theory (1979, 1983). Ironically, while Parsons’ work has been criticized for playing a role in obscuring the importance of emotion in organizations (Albrow 1992), his concep tualization of organizations as social systems that include an emotional component nevertheless offers us a window for viewing emotions in organizations. When coupled with Hochschild’s complementary theory of emotion systems and updated in the light of new understandings in complexity theory, Parsons’ General Theory of Action provides a framework for linking emotions to organizational action.

Emotion Systems Theory

Hochschild’s Emotion Systems Theory includes actions to manage emotions, cultural guidelines for those actions, and interactions between individual actors that create the context for emotion management (Hochschild 1983). Hochschild proposes two categories of emotion management action, emotion work and emotional labour (see Callahan and McCollum 2002 for a detailed discussion of the differences between the two). For the purpose of this paper, the overarching term of ’emotion management’ will be used as the convention to identify actions associated with either emotion work or emotional labour. Emotion management is the active attempt to change, in either quality or degree, an emotion held by an individual (Hochschild 1983).

Emotion management consists of two general types of actions, evocation and suppression (Hochschild 1979). When an individual performs the evocation type of emotion work, that individual is trying to draw forth an emotion that is not present. For example, when reluctantly attending the corporate picnic, an employee may smile and try to have a good time. The ‘suppression’ type of emotion management is just the opposite of evocation. When an individual is suppressing, that individual is trying to eliminate or, at the very least, subdue an emotion that is present. For example, when receiving negative performance feedback, an employee may try to hold back anger.

The General Theory of Action

For this study, Talcott Parsons’ General Theory of Action (GTA) was used as the sensitizing framework for viewing emotion-based actions within an organization. This complex theory of action in social systems included four ‘functions’ that he considered to be the most critical processes of all systems (Parsons 1961). In today’s language, these functions may be seen as the attractors around which the complex social system revolves in a nonlinear, interactive pattern. The four functions represent the four primary goals of the many actions taken within and by a system (Wallace and Wolf 1995).

The first system function – adaptation (A) – is associated with obtaining ‘disposable facilities’ (Parsons 1961) for the system from the environment. The second system function – goal attainment (G) – serves to mobilize those resources obtained for the system. These two functions constitute the system’s orientation to its external environment.

The third function – integration (I) – ‘integrates’ the various parts of the system so that it forms a recognizable whole. The fourth function – latent pattern maintenance (L) – is a sub-system often referred to as the culture function, because the actions associated with this function serve to maintain the stability of values, beliefs, and interactions. These two functions constitute the system’s orientation to its internal environment.

Complexity, The General Theory of Action, and Emotion Systems Theory

The General Theory of Action (GTA) (Parsons 1951) certainly has a well grounded, although controversial, history. Nevertheless, Turner (1999: 17) points out that Parsons’ emphasis on culture is ‘strikingly contemporary’ and highly relevant to the study of social systems today. Indeed, Parsons’ treatment of culture has recently been revitalized as a means for understanding complex systems (Frank and Fahrbach 1999). The General Theory of Action provides a theoretical framework that facilitates our understanding of organizations as complex social systems. Complex systems theory (CST) has a number of characteristics that are readily found in GTA, including self-organizing (Mainzer 1994; Cilliers 1998), adaptation (Holland 1995), and structural equilibria (Prigogine and Stengers 1984; Frank and Fahrbach 1999).

One key concept in CST is that complex systems exhibit characteristics of self-similarity such that ‘the functional relationships between different subsystems in a system are similar to the relationships between elements in each subsystem’ (Morel and Ramanujam 1999: 281). This is quite similar to Parsons’ (1961: 44) contention that:

‘a complex social system consists of a network of interdependent and interpenetrating subsystems, each of which, seen at the appropriate level of reference, is a social system in its own right, subject to all the functional exigencies of any such system relative to its [emphasis in original] institutionalized culture and situation and possessing all the essential structural components.’

Part of the structure found in complex non-linear social systems tends to emerge from affective connections among members of the system (Mainzer 1994). Thus, emotions may be seen as an important element in understanding complex systems. Emotion management actions theoretically constitute a critical element found in the Parsonian General Theory of Action. Parsons argued that four types of action were possible–expressive, intellectual, moral, and instrumental (Ritzer 1992). Expressive action is primarily affective; intellectual action is primarily cognitive; moral action is primarily evaluative; and instrumental action is a complex act in which emotions are cognitively manipulated in order to achieve goals. The four system functions (A, G, I, L) are based on the goal-oriented instrumental action.

Emotion management is different from expressive action because it is not based on the circumstances of an individual taking direct action to express his/her personal feelings. Rather, Hochschild (1979, 1983) looks at how society drives an individual to cognitively shape and control feelings in order to fit within that society, in order to achieve goals within that society. Therefore, emotion management can be considered as one type of instrumental action.

The nature of this connection is significant. The GTA provides a lens to view the structure of actions within a complex organizational system.

Emotion systems theory offers emotion management as a type of action that is consistent with the GTA framework. Further, the ‘Affective connections’ between individuals, so fundamental to the development of system structure in CST, can be seen through emotion systems theory. By using emotion management actions as the means to provide a ‘distributed view’ (Glynn 1996) of an organization, the resulting picture that emerges is a complex system.

The Research Site

The site for this study was a 160,000-member NPO originally founded shortly after World War II to keep the ‘gang’ of the ‘flying brotherhood’ together. A primary goal of the organization at that time was to advocate for the creation of a separate military service dedicated to air power – a goal that was achieved on 18 September 1947 when the United States Air Force was officially initiated (Wood 1983). Currently, the association’s mission is primarily to educate the public regarding the development for aerospace power and to support the best interests of United States Air Force (USAF), USAF members, retirees, and their families,. The association structure includes local chapters, state organizations, regions, national officers, a Board of Directors, and a national headquarters supported by a professional management staff.

The organization is very homogenous, with only a small number of women and even smaller number of minorities. The vast majority (74 percent) of members in this association are USAF retirees and veterans, active duty members, and Reserve component members. Of this group, one third are considered to be ‘senior officers’, having achieved the rank of colonel or general. Only 1.2 percent of the active duty USAF members are senior officers (Air Force Personnel Center 1998). In other words, the membership of this association is drawn from the elite leadership of the USAF. The modal age of members in this organization is over 70, though the majority of the active leaders of the organization are in their 50s and 60s, and served during the Vietnam Conflict.

Primarily because of the aging membership, organizational leaders intuitively felt they needed to make some type of change in the organization However, they did not know if change was really necessary, or what to do if it was. The Executive Director and the volunteer leadership believed that understanding the areas around which people managed their emotions might shed some light on this issue. As a graduate of the USAF Academy, a veteran, and the daughter of active volunteers in the association, I was seen as credible to the volunteers and senior staff. In addition, although I have never been an active volunteer, I do hold a lifetime membership in the organization. Theses factors probably contributed to my being granted access to the organization. As is the case with any qualitative researcher, my personal background plays a role in how I understand the phenomena I study.

Thus, it is important to note that these factors also contributed to how I viewed and interpreted the data that emerged in this study.


I incorporated a qualitative embedded single-case-study design for this study (Yin 1994). The primary data collection method was semi-structured in-depth interviews that focused on incidents associated with the organization in which the individual acted to suppress or evoke emotions. Data collection triangulation support included traditional and participant observations, and document analysis. Documents included e-mails and letters from participants, official publications, an organizational video, and a book about the organization. I conducted traditional observations at the staff headquarters and at official state and national officer meetings; I conducted participant observations during luncheons, cocktail parties, awards ceremonies, fundraisers, and exhibitions. The sample for the present study consisted of 21 members of the non-profit association who provided either face-to-face interviews or substantive written documentation (e.g. letters, e-mails, jokes). The majority of the sample came from the senior leadership of the organization’s volunteer component. However, two of the 21 participants were not only members of the association, but were also employed by the organization as staff members. I used combination sampling (Patton 1990) consisting of random, opportunistic, and chain sampling, to select individuals for an interview.

I analyzed the transcribed interviews and correspondence using NUD*IST[TM] software. The four characteristics of systems described earlier, as defined by Parsons (1951), were used as the primary codes. Following Parsons’ (1937/1949) conception of analyzing action, the unit of analysis was the action that occurred. I coded all actions discussed by participants based on the primary system characteristic associated with the act. This study focused on the interactions between the latent pattern maintenance characteristic and the other system characteristics. References to emotions and actions of managing those emotions were also part of the primary coding set. Thus, I coded some actions with a system characteristic, an emotion or emotion valence (positive or negative) and whether or not it constituted emotion management. Those multiple coded actions were included in the analysis for this study.

‘Disinterested’ colleagues performed coding and data interpretation verification. Three colleagues familiar with the Parsonian framework (1951) coded an excerpt of the data set, resulting in an agreement rate of 89 percent between the researcher and at least one colleague on the primary codes of the analyzed excerpt. As a final measure to ensure the ‘trustworthiness’ (Lincoln and Guba 1985) of the findings and interpretations, scholars with a basic understanding of the theoretical framework, yet unfamiliar with the research site, reviewed the findings and interpretations for consistency. Two staff and two volunteer members of the organization also reviewed the final document for accuracy of interpretation.

While qualitative analysis was the primary method used with the data set, I performed a chi-square analysis on the quantified data to discern any differences in the distribution of emotion management actions across the four functions of the GTA.


Patterns of action associated with emotions could be connected to each of the four sub-systems of the General Theory of Action. The use of the GTA as a lens for analysis revealed that both the presence and absence of emotion management in emotion-related actions could be associated with the entrenchment of cultural patterns in this organization. The interconnected nature of the four functions of social systems is readily seen in the ‘thick descriptions’ (Geertz 1973) provided by the participants. The presentation of qualitative findings is grouped by external (adaptation and goal attainment) and internal (integration and latent pattern maintenance) functions. The quantitative analysis based on the qualitative data, however, presents a first picture of the distribution of emotion management actions by gender across the functions of the four systems.

The chi-square analysis revealed that both male and female volunteers conducted significantly less emotion management than expected in association with the adaptation function, while female volunteers conducted significantly more emotion management in association with the latent pattern maintenance function (see Table 1). Although the statistical power of the sample was too small to warrant cross-gender comparison, the distribution of average responses by males and females is intriguing and promises a potentially rich source of future research. On average, women conducted more than twice the amount of emotion management than did men, given their representation in the sample.

External Functions

The external functions of the General Theory of Action include adaptation and goal attainment. Actions associated with these functions generally serve to orient the organization to its external environment. The volunteer leaders of this organization tended to report fewer actions of emotion management associated with the external functions of the organization. Although they did not reference emotion management activities, volunteers did reference expressed emotions during actions associated with external functions.

One member commented that she got ‘jazzed’ every time she had an opportunity to speak to others about the mission of the organization. Comments by members about interactions with the community and USAF members were consistently emotion-laden, with few hints of emotion management. They talked about caring, passion, and enthusiasm. One USAF retiree commented that membership in the organization gave him the opportunity ‘to do some thing through an organization that offers me a voice for the needs of the Air Force, so that I could continue to try to take care of those I left behind, those young airmen’. A member who was also on active duty in the USAF commented that the organization was built upon and continued to seek ‘qualified people to serve, that have a passion for the Air Force and the ability to communicate that to the Air Force family’. Another member described being ‘so enthusiastic’ about helping the organization accomplish its mission of public education. In general, emotions mentioned by organization al members with regard to interfacing with the public were overwhelmingly positive.

The few instances of volunteer emotion management found in association with adaptation generally had to do with disappointment with the way certain interface functions were carried out. For example, in the interviews, several expressed hidden concerns that a proposal to move the annual convention to a new city each year would cause irreparable harm to critical interface functions such as the educational breakfasts attended by both organizational members and their Congressional representatives. Nevertheless, one member indicated that he would publicly support the initiative to move the convention, even though he was strongly opposed to the measure.

Just as adaptation actions elicited positive emotions, goal attainment actions were often associated with expressed negative emotions. Some of these emotions were intense and vocally expressed. For example, one member talked about the anger associated with a decision to restructure by downsizing the Board of Directors. He said members were ‘pounding on the table saying, “You folks are ruining our organization. You have no idea what you’re doing”‘. One of the members from whom I attempted to obtain an interview was a ‘downsized’ Board member. When I asked if he would be attending the meeting at which I would be conducting interviews, he angrily replied, ‘No, you people have taken my money away!’ (travel expenses for Board members are covered by the organization).

Strong disagreements also existed about the ways in which the organizational goals should be accomplished. One contingent believed that the primary means for educating the public at large should be through school children. This group held that ‘by working … in a sterile environment of education it’s just more productive. We can change the values of society through our children…’. On the other hand, another dominant group argued that such actions were actually counterproductive to the mission of the organization. One member commented that ‘…all that’s nice, but I want to tell you that’s not the mission of the association. That is a means of providing the potential audience, but that’s not the mission of the association. The mission of the association is to educate the public at large, and we’re talking about the voting public who can effect the change through our congressional leadership.’

Emotion management was not necessarily conducted around these beliefs; rather they were such strong beliefs that communication around these issues was often impaired. One volunteer observed that ‘most of the people in this organization are dedicated and committed and passionate about their feelings of where it [the organization] is going. They just have different ideas of where it is going and how to get there’.

The goal attainment function did include more references to emotion management than the adaptation function. Emotion management in this area was primarily associated with leadership issues and the processes by which leaders were chosen. Six of the volunteers mentioned incidents in which they suppressed either anger or disappointment as it specifically related to the leadership process. Their emotion management was centred on the nomination process and the decisions about what constituted a competent National President. Several volunteers commented that the selection for president was not based on past performance in the organization, leadership abilities, or ability to communicate the mission of the association, but rather on how well the individual fit the cultural model of the organization, which several members referred to as a ‘Good ol’ boy network’.

Internal Functions

Internal functions include integration and latent pattern maintenance (culture). These functions serve to create and maintain the internal environment of the organization. While actions in the external functions were accompanied by few references to emotion management, actions associated with the internal functions were consistently accompanied by references to emotion management. One need only refer to the emotion management conducted with regard to the leadership nomination process, mentioned in the previous section, to see the link to internal cultural issues.

Emotion management among volunteers regarding integration issues was frequently connected to communication. Several individuals discussed suppressing frustration and anger because those in leadership or decision-making positions often failed to provide clear, accurate and honest information. One volunteer leader specifically commented that she would not express her frustrations with those individuals in decision-making positions, because it might indirectly harm other volunteers in her region. Another example of a communication issue that caused emotion management was the preparations for a protocol event. When fellow association members failed to spread the word and get support for an educational event sponsored by a senior USAF officer, one volunteer had to hold back her anger: ‘I still wanted to kick somebody’s butt and it was just [argh]…’.

Issues associated with the ‘macho’ image of the organization and gender biases caused perhaps most incidents of emotion management. One volunteer commented that he tried to hold back tears during a Prisoner-of-War! Missing-in-Action (POW/MIA) ceremony, because it was not acceptable for senior officers to cry. Another volunteer ridiculed the idea of talking about emotions in a military-affiliated organization, even though emotion management was implicit in his remarks, ‘… you just don’t “let” yourself cry. You might “have” to because the pain is so great, but you don’t “let”…’.

Several individuals commented that the culture of the organization was such that women felt excluded and, therefore, conducted an extraordinary amount of emotion management. One volunteer believed that the biases of the white male majority in the organization were so ingrained that ‘they are not going to see [the lack of diversity] …They’ll say, “What’s wrong with the way we look? We look like who we are”.’ Not surprisingly, women conducted significantly more emotion management actions than men in association with the latent pattern maintenance function (see Table 1).

One volunteer remarked that she ‘really felt that there certainly is a bit of discrimination toward women in this organization’. Another volunteer shared her frustrations with what she considered a paternalistic comment that could be associated with both gender and age,

‘…There are occasions when somebody calls me, “Kiddo” and [it] immediately makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. … Sometimes I say something, and sometimes I don’t. I have to weigh the situation.’

Still other volunteers, both male and female, expressed their otherwise hidden concerns that qualified women were being discouraged from seeking higher positions for no other reason than that they were women. A female volunteer, who was also a pilot, talked about feeling that she had to suppress her anger when an older male volunteer voiced his opinion that leadership positions should be reserved for (male) pilots.

As a participant observer and interviewer, I often found myself performing emotion management with regard to gender bias issues. During an observation at a luncheon, four men discussed what a travesty it was that women had been allowed to enroll in The Citadel [a university with a reputation for preparing individuals for military service] and, thus, hinder the ability of the school to prepare young men for military service. As a female graduate of a military service academy, I had a strong opinion regarding this issue that differed from the opinions expressed by the men at my table. During this exchange, however, a senior female volunteer gave me a warning glance and gripped my knee under the table as if to advise me to refrain from expressing my feelings about the issue. I suppressed both my emotions and my comments.


A key finding of this study was that patterns of both the expression of emotion and the management of emotion were crucial to understanding this organization as a complex social system. Emotions played a role both in organizing experiences between and among individuals and in structuring the larger organization. This section will highlight the organizing power of emotions, as they are both expressed and managed.

Weick’s (1995) approach to sensemaking explores how emotions influence the process by which individuals make sense of and then enact their environments. While the present study supports the notion that our interpretations of events or issues lead to emotional orientations that help enact our environments, it also suggests that the role of emotions in the sensemaking process can be taken a step further. Rather than being conceived as an internal phenomenon that leads individuals to create their environments, emotion can also be seen as an external or social phenomenon that becomes embedded in the environment itself.

In other words, the combination of emotion management and emotional expression within a social system reveal the emotion structuration of the organization. Structuration (Giddens 1994) is a process in which there is a reciprocal connection between individuals and social structures. Individual action is influenced by social structures, while actions by individuals transform social structures. The emotion structuration occurring in this nonprofit organization resulted in the maintenance of a culture that potentially jeopardized the future of the volunteer organization.

Much as Parsons (1961) argued, conformity to cultural norms helps maintain cultural patterns; deviation from those norms helps create new structures. As Albrow (1992) noted about Parsonian theory, culture is the source of the rules of feeling that guide emotion management. In this organization, adherence to those rules of feeling tended to create emotional dissonance (Rafaeli and Sutton 1987) for many, especially women. An interesting avenue for future exploration is the extent to which emotional deviance (Rafaeli and Sutton 1987) is necessary to reorganize the cultural patterns within an organization, to stimulate organizational change.

The actors within this organization expressed their emotions vigorously around externally oriented functions of the organization. They were enthusiastic and excited about interfacing with the public. Members also vocalized their dislike for changes in organizational structure (board downsizing) and they aligned themselves with different perspectives of the organizational mission. In other words, they organized themselves around visible expressions of emotion regarding espoused goals of the organization. On the other hand, members were equally organized around the emotion management actions that accompanied the internal functions of integration and latent pattern maintenance. These actions incorporated the basic assumptions on which the organization was grounded — the underlying cultural tenets of the association. This focus on the observable issues of importance enabled organizational members to avoid addressing the otherwise hidden issues that maintained an organizational culture that was comfortable for th e dominant, aging, majority.

The emotion management around cultural issues also served to maintain the power and control relationships inherent in the cultural biases of this organization. This echoes Tracy’s (2000) argument that we control our emotions in response to perceived power threats and, in doing so, we help recreate those power structures. For example, I perceived that my emotional opposition to negative statements about the presence of women at The Citadel would destroy my rapport with organizational members and, therefore, hamper my research efforts. My fears caused me to suppress my anger at the biases openly expressed by male members of the organization. My failure to express my feelings maintained patterns of power that formed a culture that did not value the contributions of women.

My emotion management contributed to the very conditions that were frustrating to me, and to other women in the organization. Thus, as Hochschild pointed out, ‘in managing feeling, we partly create it’ (1997: 11). My interpretation of the situation and my subsequent emotion management caused a reinforcement of both the interactional script and the larger structure in which that script was embedded (Weick 1979; Fineman and Sturdy 1999). This reciprocal interaction of structure and individual action can be seen as emotion structuration.

Emotion management obscured the idea of change from the interactional perspectives of both powerful and dominated individuals. Emotion expression focused change away from cultural issues. Emotion expression and emotion management coupled to mask the need for change at the larger organizational level. Thus, the emotion structuration occurring in this nonprofit organization has broader implications for the survival of the organization itself. These interlocked patterns of emotional behaviour that create the emotion structuration of the organization become, in effect, the organizational level analog to espoused theory and theory-in-use (Argyris and Schon 1974). The organization expressively rallies around the explicit goals of the organization, while the implicit goal of the organization is obscured by emotion management.

Because non-profit associations are one of the vehicles by which the larger society maintains its culture (Parsons 1956b), the implicit role of this organization is to maintain a particular culture. Galaskiewicz and Bielefeld (1998) argue that one of the factors that influences the survival of a non-profit organization is its ability to market to a niche that it serves. The niche of this organization is to help maintain the cultural ideals of the United States Air Force. Because this organization had been formed immediately after World War II and most of its current members are over 70 years old, the culture this organization maintains is not the culture of the current era.

The advancing age of the members is not unnoticed in the organization. For example, at a state-level meeting I observed, the retired USAF members joked that they would need to ‘find someone who’s living to take a leadership role’. The members typically view the aging of the membership in the light of the need to find younger members to become actively engaged in the organization. However, if the organizational niche is to maintain the culture of the USAF, and the organization continues to maintain a culture that is Out of step with its constituency, younger members in the USAF are unlikely to volunteer for the organization in large numbers.

The armed forces have changed dramatically since this non-profit association was formed, especially with regard to the gender issues around which much of the emotion management was conducted in this organization. While substantial gender biases certainly still exist in the armed forces (Stiehm 1996; Francke 1997), significant changes have been made since World War II. As Francke (1997) chronicles, women now serve in an integrated capacity with men in the various service branches (effective in 1948); women are eligible to compete for promotion beyond the rank of lieutenant colonel (effective in 1967); women are no longer discharged if they become pregnant (effective in 1974); women attend all the federal military service academies (effective in 1976); women are formally authorized to serve in several combat fields in all service branches (effective in 1992); and more.

As members argue about the explicit goals of the organization, they fail to observe that the implicit goal of the organization is to help maintain a particular culture that they represent. Because this organization maintains the culture of a USAF from the 1950s and 1960s, it is no longer able to meet the needs of volunteers from the USAF of the 21st century. It suffers from a lack of external fit due to changes in the cultural environment (Siggelkow 2001). The interplay of emotional expression in the external organizational functions and emotion management in the internal organizational functions has masked the extent of this lack of fit.


Emotion management can have both functional and dysfunctional consequences for both individuals and the organizations in which they work. This study found that emotion management had the dysfunctional consequence of maintaining the organizational culture beyond the point that new patterns probably should have emerged. Emotion management also had dysfunctional consequences at the individual level, because it reinforced patterns of marginalization. Conversely, this study also suggests that emotion management had the functional consequence of helping some individuals, and perhaps even the organization itself, remain in a zone of comfort; emotion management had the short-term positive consequence of making people feel better because they were able to avoid conflict.

The emotion structuration created by the patterns of emotion expression and management revealed an intimate dance between the powerful and less powerful in the organization. It also provided a window for viewing the larger picture of organizational social structure. Emotion structuration also highlighted how this organization was oriented to its larger context because the actions were linked to a theory of social systems that included the nested concept of self-similarity (Parsons 1961).

Parsons once suggested that organizational research should address three primary areas: the resources and transactional processes of organizations; the internal structures, processes, and relationships of organizations; and the integration and relationship of organizations to the larger social system in which they are embedded (Parsons 1956a; 1956b). Stem and Barley (1996) argue that while two of Parsons’ three foci for organizational studies have been thoroughly addressed in the last fifty years, the third has not been pursued, perhaps because we lacked the adequate language and methods for such an ambitious agenda.

This study suggests that such an agenda for organizational research is necessary to understand the survival of organizations. As a non-profit organization, the site for this study fulfils the role of maintaining the culture for the larger social system (Parsons 1956b); however, if the organization is unable to maintain a culture that is meaningful to the larger system, the organization’s survival is in jeopardy. The growing complexity of our social systems may make this third agenda more timely for the 21st century. In addition, advances associated with complexity theory may provide the language and methods necessary to accomplish the study of broad scale institutional patterns of society created by organizations.

Another avenue of exploration that accompanies this third agenda is the role of various organizations in an international context. As Salamon and Anheier (1997) indicate, different nations have vastly different legal and practical interpretations of what constitutes a non-profit organization. Thus, while the NPO in the United States may be driven by an expressive dimension (Mason 1996) and may serve to maintain the larger cultural system (Parsons 1956b), this artificial classification of ‘non-profit organization’ may not serve to adequately define this type of organization in a global environment.

This paper re-emphasizes the need for organizational research to begin exploring this third agenda. The patterns of emotion structuration revealed in this study addressed the internal structures, process, and relationships of organizations — Parsons’ second agenda for the study of organizations. Uncovering emotion structuration certainly offers us a useful lens with which we might make choices for potential interventions within an organization. A key implication of this study, however, is that these patterns of emotion structuration may be most revealing when we are able to understand the relationship of the organization to its larger social system.

Table 1

Emotion Management Responses Associated with Organizational Functions

Observed Number

df Adaptation Goal Integration


Male (n = 17) 3 6 21 25

Female (n = 4) 3 4 9 9

Observed Number

Latent pattern


Male (n = 17) 24

Female (n = 4) 17

(male [chi square] = 12.316; p<.006)

(female [chi square] = 8.897; p<.031)


* I would like to thank the editor and anonymous reviewers of OS for their detailed comments and suggestions. I also would like to thank David Schwandt, Marshall Sashkin, and Sylvia Marotta for their guidance on the research that led to this paper. I am also grateful for the insight, recommendations, and assistance provided by Eric McCollum, Fred Piercy, and David Ward during the preparation of this manuscript.


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Jamie L. Callahan

Jamie L. Callahan has recently moved to the Educational Human Resource Development Program at Texas A&M University. Before this she was an Assistant Professor of Adult Learning and Human Resource Development at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She holds degrees from the United States Air Force Academy and Georgetown University. She received her doctorate in Human Resource Development with concentrations in sociology and adult development from George Washington University. Her current research interests are focused on the management of emotions in organizations, organizational learning, and the relationship between emotion management and organizational learning and culture.

Mailing Address: Educational Human Resource Development Programme, Texas A&M University, 551 Harrington Tower, College Station, TX 77843-4226, USA.


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