Managing Mixed Emotions in the Layered Ritual Reality of Networking Events
Department of Sociology University of Turku, Faculty of Social Sciences TURKU, FINLAND
My presentation deals with face-to-face networking events, a common phenomenon in especially the business world, but also in the academia (though not always under the title of "networking"). I will look into the rituality of networking, its dramaturgy, and the need and contents of emotion management.
Floor-level networking is often staged to look like friendly socializing. Nevertheless, it has an instrumental goal: useful contacts. Every networker knows this, so the instrumentality is not latent. It is not completely manifest, either. I presume that there is a mutual implicit contract of not breeching the situation by stating the instrumental goal aloud. The getting of contacts is a conscious but tacit function of socializing.
Networking may be studied from the viewpoint of Durkheimian-Goffmanian-Collinsian conversation rituals. Due to the double agenda in the situations the rituality is layered. We have a ritual with physical proximity, boundaries for outsiders, discussion topics as totems, and a shared and happy emotional mood of casualness. In addition, we have the ritual layer of networking proper. On this embedded level the ritual totems are the sought-after contacts: potential customers, employers, research associates, referees, or whatnot. The emotional mood is probably one of slight anxiety and the atmosphere is mildly competitive.
The rituality is layered, and so are the emotions both layered and mixed. The conversation partners are both objects of politeness, competitors, and "trophies." It is clear that there may be a discrepancy between how one feels about networking and how he or she is supposed and obliged to act. The nature of networking activity may call for emotion management (i.e. emotion work) (c.f. Hochschild). This may have a strategical aim: to not to let the interaction be disturbed by the display of the "wrong" emotions. But there may also be deeper emotional needs served: insulating one's "soul", the core self, from the potentially damaging effects of being forced to play the multiply double-dealing ritual game of networking.
It will be an interesting task to probe these possibilities empirically. My empirical materials will consist of observations from networking events in Finland and interviews of networkers.