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Summer Reading 2023 - Part 3: Emotional Labor by Rose Hackman

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Susan Gaeddert is Community Programs Director at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, where she runs Active Wisconsin, facilitates the Community Transportation Academy, and coordinates the Wisconsin Climate Table.

This is Part 3 in the Summer Reading 2023 series.

Do you have a summer reading list? Summer is supposed to be a time to relax, slow down a little, spend more time outdoors, maybe take a vacation, and indulge in a good book or three. The last few months I’ve been fortunate to have the time to read a few new books that have informed or deepened my understanding of land use and transportation planning. These aren’t your typical “beach read,” but I found them to be engaging, entertaining, and informative.

No, this book is not exactly about transportation or land use, but hear me out. Hackman defines emotional labor as “identifying or anticipating other people’s emotions, adapting yours in consequence, and then managing to positively affect other people’s emotions.” Examples of emotional labor include managing feelings, anticipating the needs of others, and overseeing domestic tasks. In our society, this work is vitally important, but vastly undervalued. Emotional labor is usually unacknowledged, very often unpaid, and almost always carried by women, girls, and people of color. The expectation of emotional labor is so pervasive that we don’t always notice it, but the consequences are real.

Hackman delves deep into patriarchal systems, social hierarchies, and capitalism. It's fascinating and complex, and I couldn't do the book justice by trying to summarize it here.

Still, as I ponder all the concepts she brings up, I keep thinking of all the ways emotional labor shows up in the work of transportation advocates. Here are some examples of how an individual’s daily transportation needs intersect with emotional labor:

  • when a child’s primary caregiver schedules their workday around school drop-off and pick-up;

  • when that same caregiver is hesitant to use public transit to get to and from work because they worry they won’t be able to leave in the middle of the day if the child needs to be picked up early;

  • when a young woman calls a friend to pick her up rather than walk home after dark in order to avoid the threat of violence;

  • how a biker responds to being honked at by an angry driver on a busy road;

  • when wages do not reflect the empathy and behavior management required of transit drivers and school bus drivers;

  • when the work of advocacy includes carrying anxiety and grief that results from traffic violence.

Advocates often complain that traffic engineers, transportation planners, and state DOTs are too concerned with prioritizing vehicles at the expense of human comfort and safety. I wonder what would happen if we take into account the emotional labor required to navigate our transportation systems on a daily basis, and if that would change the landscape of transportation planning.

Have you read any good books lately? Drop me a note and let me know by emailing

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