9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN16 Sociology of Health and Illness

2009-09-05 13:30:00 2009-09-05 15:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 13:30 - 15:00 Embodiment, Emotions and Health I Building I, 1E2

"Switching and swapping faces": towards emotional literacy within the 'performance' of midwifery

Managing and performing emotions or 'switching and swapping faces' to support child bearing women and colleagues can leave midwives feeling emotionally drained The necessity to ?perform? emotion, associated with endless reorganisations in the National Health Service (NHS), have contributed to a dominant understanding of practice as essentially performance-based.

This paper is based on an action research study undertaken in the North of England that explored community midwives' support needs. Eight in-depth interviews with midwives were conducted and subsequently analysed using a voice-centred relational methodology. Four different, but interrelated aspects of the midwives' roles relating to emotional work were identified. Crucially, the study provided insights into two types of emotional work within midwifery, 'emotional work' and 'emotional labour'. Borrowing our interpretation of the latter from Hochschild, we nevertheless felt that her use of this term did not allow for the positive dimensions of emotionally challenging work. To capture the rewarding aspects, we have used the term 'emotional work? Whilst cautioning against a binary understanding of 'emotional labour' and 'emotional work', we argue that the latter tends to remain unacknowledged and undervalued within midwifery. We suggest that this has negative repercussions for the quality of the service provided whilst also undermining the development of an emotionally and intellectually sustaining working environment for midwives.

Our theoretical analysis draws on key ideas taken from Goffman's Presentation of the Self which we relate to different models of work, economies of performance' and 'ecologies of practice'. While the former is related to the pressure of excessive organisational demands and limited resources which require midwives to calibrate and control their performances, the latter opens up opportunities for greater emotional literacy and creativity. We suggest here that good practice in midwifery is more likely to develop in an environment in which authentic emotional engagement is validated alongside the imperatives of the performance culture. Unless this happens, professional commitment is likely to diminish within an increasingly instrumentalised and de-energising working environment.