9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN14 Gender Relations in the Labour Market and the Welfare State

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 POSTER SESSION Building AA, AA.223

The Ambiguities of Gender: Nurses and Primary Teachers Professional Identities in Europe

The following contribution is based on the international research project Profknow - Professional Knowledge in Education and Health. (EU 6th Framework Programme, http://ww.profknow.net). The overall ambition of this three year research project was to gain an understanding of the relations between the changing organization of work and professional knowledge in primary education and health (nursing) across 7 Europe countries (England, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Spain, Portugal). The methodologies employed included postal surveys, ethnographic observations at work, and life-history interviews. The results juxtapose analysis of global and national policy discourses with individual teachers' and nurses' worklife narratives.

The fact that education and nursing are heavily feminized professions across Europe offer a prime opportunity to study the impact of welfare restructuring for gender relations at work. Both professions have been affected by restructuring measures by varying degrees. Concrete worklife experiences vary highly between countries and professions, contrary to a certain hegemony of neo-liberal rhetoric across all countries.

The objective of our presentation is thus two fold: on the one hand to sketch the variations in how female teachers and nurses experience policy- but also wider social transformations in their work. What are the common and diverging concerns in terms of work-life balance, professional careers and status? We will also explore how restructuring - as a situation of profound change and transformation - confronts teachers and nurses with a highly ambiguous redistribution of power, competences and knowledge. Many teachers and nurses testify to the flattening of hierarchies at work and new scales of autonomy and responsibilities towards their "clients" and superiors. However, at the same time, the redefinition of their professional identity often draws upon very traditional scripts of "naturally" male/female qualities, aptitudes and capacities. Restructuring thus appears as both breaking traditional work arrangements in favor of more egalitarian scenarios but at the same time forcefully re-inscribes gendered dichotomies that ultimately block women teachers and nurses from controlling the gains that their newly won responsibilities and skills generate.