L&C seminar: Tracks of my tears
Bodies of Truth and Therapeutic Cultures
Speaker: Dr Elaine Swan
Dr Elaine Swan is a Senior Lecturer in FASS at UTS who teaches on the Adult Education Programme. In essence, her research is a sociology of psychology. She is interested in the politics of the therapeuticization of education and learning; psychological categories such as ‘potential’, ‘habits’ and ‘confidence’; racialised, classed and gendered relations in psy learning practices in the workplace; selfing pedagogies such as makeovers and coaching; and teaching and learning bodies. Her more recent work focuses on visual analyses of ‘commodity diversity’ objects and the cultural representations of the figure of the career woman in feminine culture. She has recently published a book entitled ‘Worked up Selves: Personal Development Workers, Self Work and Therapeutic Cultures’. She is starting working on a FASS development grant with Ed Wray-Bliss from the Business Faculty, examining cultural representations of the ‘global business elite’ in aeroplane and hotel magazines. She loves her teaching, being in Sydney and is having a bad case of zeal of the convert in relation to Facebook.
You don’t have to be a professional therapist to experience the thrill, even the spiritual transcendence, that comes from helping someone work through tears. There are few other times when you feel more useful. (Kottler, 1996: 185)
This quote from therapist and crying theorist, Jeffrey Kottler exemplifies some of the core themes of this paper. Whilst there has been a veritable outpouring of academic literature on emotion and the body in the workplace, very little has been written on crying. Drawing on a variety of sociological and social psychological literature and a small scale qualitative study with workplace personal development trainers and executive coaches, this paper argues that crying is of great symbolic importance in therapeutic cultures in the workplace in ways that are under-researched and under-theorised in the emergent sociology of therapeutic cultures. In particular, the paper argues that crying can be understood as a kind of ‘money-shot’ of workplace therapeutic cultures, a type of ‘bodily sign’ that symbolises particular body-self relations for therapeutic practitioners working in the contemporary UK workplace. Rather than simply being seen as a source of embarrassment (Plas and Hoover-Demsey, 1988), tears are understood as complex and important signs. I use the term ‘therapeutic cultures’ to refer to a congeries of practices which take the form of coaching, assertiveness training, neuro-linguistic programme training and team-building in the workplace, and which assume that psychological aspects of the self are the source and solution to a range of individual and workplace problems and issues. Of course, what the psychological and the self are seen to constitute varies from practice to practice. As the emergent sociology of therapeutic cultures notes, therapeutic ways of thinking and practising have proliferated across a plethora of social domains including state practices including education, popular culture including different genres of television programmes and importantly for this paper, the contemporary workplace, in the form of HRM, HRD practices and management practices (see for example, Rose, 1989; Furedi, 2004; Nolan, 1998; Ecclestone, 2004; Townley, 1994; 1995; Hollway, 1991; Illouz, 2007; Author, 2006; forthcoming). Because much of the sociology on wider therapeutic cultures focuses on more macro analyses of changing cultural and social trends, there is relatively little empirical ‘close-up’ exploration of practitioners’ accounts of their work (see Bondi, 2003 for an exception). As a result, the occupational identities and practices of practitioners who operate in the workplace, usually as freelance consultants, management trainers, coaches, and facilitators have been relatively neglected in the sociology of therapeutic cultures and also organisational theory. This focus on this group of therapeutic occupation group workers is important. Much has been written on emotional labour and emotional labourers, in particular service workers in organisational theory and sociology (Hochschild, 1983; Fineman, 1993, 2000) but much less has been written about the teachers of emotional labour and the gendered, racialised and classed effects of this labour. These practitioners can be seen as purveyors of emotion ideologies and techniques, ‘cultural intermediaries’ of emotion (Bourdieu, 1984). Drawing inspiration from wider ethnographic research on bodily and emotional expressions, the paper examines the technique of crying and argues that crying is understood by therapeutic practitioners as an important bodily sign of emotionality, authenticity and self-transformation. As such, crying represents a kind of ‘money shot’ in the makeover culture within the workplace.
- 31 May 2010
- 17:00 - 18:30
- City - Broadway CB10 Level 5, Conference room 580
- All Welcome
- This is a free event.
- Emma Davidson