Emotional Capital, A Critique Of The Theory Of Emotional Intelligence

Second review of “Frozen Intimacies. Emotions in capitalism ”by Eva Illouz.

In the second of the lectures that make up  Frozen Intimacies, Eva Illouz begins by making a comparison between  Samuel Smiles, author of  Self-help (1859), and  Sigmund Freud. 

Although it is true that at present the postulates of these two authors tend to resemble each other to such an extent that psychology is confused with  self-help, the basic principles that originate them are considerably different.

The differences between self-help and psychology

While Smiles considered that “moral force could overcome a person’s position and social destiny”, Freud “held the pessimistic conviction (…) that the ability to help oneself was conditioned by the social class to which one belonged”. 

Therefore, for the father of psychoanalysis, “self-help and virtue” were not in themselves sufficient elements for a healthy psyche, since “only transference, resistance, work with dreams, free association – and not neither “volition” nor “ self-control ” – could lead to a psychic and, ultimately, social transformation ”.

The fusion of psychology and self-help: the therapeutic narrative

To understand the approach of psychology to the popular culture of self-help, we should attend to the social phenomena that began to be accentuated in the United States from the sixties: the discrediting of political ideologies, the expansion of consumerism and the so-called sexual revolution contributed to augment a narrative of self-realization.

Likewise, the therapeutic narrative managed to permeate the dominant cultural meanings through the capillarity offered by a series of social practices related to the  management of emotions.

On the other hand, at the theoretical base of the syncretism between psychology and self-help are the theses of  Carl Rogers and  Abraham Maslow, for whom the search for self-realization, understood as “the motivation in every way of life to develop to the maximum their abilities. possibilities ”was inherent to a healthy mind. This is how psychology became primarily a therapeutic psychology that, “by postulating an undefined and ever-expanding ideal of health,” made self-actualization the criterion by which to increasingly classify emotional states as healthy or pathological.

Suffering and individualism in the therapeutic narrative

In light of which, Illouz presents a series of examples of how the therapeutic narrative depends entirely on establishing and generalizing a diagnosis in terms of emotional dysfunction beforehand, and subsequently asserting the prescriptive capacity that is assumed. Therefore, self-realization needs to give meaning to the psychic complications in the individual’s past (“what prevents being happy, successful and having an intimacy”).

Consequently, the therapeutic narrative became a commodity with the performative capacity to transform the consumer into a patient (“since, in order to be better – the main product that is promoted and sold in this new field – one must first be sick” ), thus mobilizing a series of professionals related to psychology, medicine, the pharmaceutical industry, the publishing world and television.

And since “it consists precisely in giving meaning to common lives as an expression (hidden or open) of suffering”, what is interesting about the therapeutic narrative of self-help and self-realization is that it involves a methodological individualism, based on “the demand to express and represent their own suffering ”. The author’s opinion is that the two demands of the therapeutic narrative, self-realization and suffering, were institutionalized in the culture, since they were in line with “one of the main models for individualism that the State adopted and propagated” .

Emotional intelligence as capital

On the other hand, the field of mental and emotional health resulting from the therapeutic narrative is sustained through the competition it generates. Proof of this competence is the notion of ” emotional intelligence “, which, based on certain criteria (“self-awareness, control of emotions, personal motivation, empathy, relationship management”), allows considering, and stratifying, the aptitude of people in the social field and, especially, labor, while granting a status (cultural capital) and facilitating personal relationships (social capital) in order to obtain economic returns. 

In the same way, the author reminds us that the implications of emotional intelligence on the security of the self should not be underestimated in the context of an intimacy that in the contemporaneity of late modernity appears extremely fragile.

Bibliographic references:

  • Illouz, Eva. (2007). Frozen Intimacies. Emotions in capitalism. Katz Editores (p.93-159).

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