‘Once more, with feeling,’ said the robot: AI, the end of work and the rise of emotional economies

Roger Patulny*, Natasa Lazarevic, Vern Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This article calls for a new research agenda into ‘emotional economies’, or economies increasingly characterised by the creation, extraction and exploitation of emotional products and labour, enabled by and embedded in rapid advances in technological and digitalmedia systems. We base this concept and call on a literature review linking technological automation, the future of work and emotions. Our review finds that: (1) many existing studies – whether predicting dystopian end-of-work mass unemployment, or utopian complementarities between humans, machines and digital platforms – are technologically determinist in nature, and do not account for the roles of culture, society, government, business and education in the machine–human–emotion interface; (2) despite this, there is evidence that technology will replace many existing forms of human labour, leaving only technologically irreplaceable emotion-based soft-skill service work (and emotional labour) for humans to perform; (3) there is an outside chance (in some literature) that technology and AIs will replace even emotional labour, though we argue this is unlikely for many years; (4) the increasing centrality of emotional industries, emotional data and emotional labour to work, digital platforms and media-imagery will likely lead to emotions becoming vital commodities, central to the economies of the future. The article concludes with an urgent call for a new research agenda on emotional economies to elaborate on private/ public intersections between work, economy and emotions that soberly engage with the future while challenging technologically determinist assumptions that underpin populist depictions of the end of work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-97
Number of pages19
JournalEmotions and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Automation
  • Emotion
  • Emotion management
  • Emotional labour
  • Future of work
  • Gig work
  • Technological change
  • Work


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