Emotions in Institutional Work: A Discursive Perspective

Johanna K. Moisander, Heidi Hirsto, Kathryn M. Fahy
  • Organization Studies, February 2016, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/0170840615613377

What is the role of emotions and emotion work in institutional politics?

What is it about?

This paper examines how the Finnish government engaged in discursive emotion work to create public support and political acceptance for Finnish participation in the euro area in the late 1990s. The study shows how the government engaged in emotion work not only by evoking emotions but also by eclipsing and diverting the collective fears, anxieties, and moral indignation that drove resistance and bred negative legitimacy evaluations at the time.

Why is it important?

While private feelings and public displays of emotions are increasingly recognized as constitutive elements of institutions and institutional processes, we still know relatively little about emotions in institutional politics and institutional work. By means of an empirical case study, this study advances our knowledge of the dynamics and interplay of meaning, emotions, and power in discursive institutional work. The study shows, in particular, how institutional actors may create support for their institutional projects by developing and deploying strategies of institutional work that are geared at reconstructing the discursive conditions under which constituents make sense of emotions and institutions. It suggests that emotions play an important role in institutional work associated with creating institutions, not only via 'pathos appeals' but also as tools of discursive, cultural-cognitive meaning work and in the exercise of power in the field.


Professor Johanna K. Moisander
Aalto University

I consider myself a staunch supporter of the EU and I hope that our paper provides further substantiation for the argument that there is now an urgent need to take the collective fears, anxieties, and indignation that EU citizens currently experience and express more seriously. As Martha Nussbaum (2001), has argued emotions "form part of our system of ethical reasoning, and we must be prepared to grapple with the messy material of grief and love, anger and fear, and in so doing to learn what role these tumultuous experiences play in our thinking about the good and the just." [Nussbaum, Martha (2001) Upheavals of Thought: The intelligence of emotions. Cambridge University Press]

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The following have contributed to this page: Professor Johanna K. Moisander