ACSPRI Conferences, ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference 2010

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The Emotional Labour of Sensitive and Feminist Research Methodologies

Katherine Carroll

Building: Holme Building
Room: Sutherland Room
Date: 2010-12-02 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2010-11-17


In her book The Managed Heart Arlie Hochschild develops a theory of emotional labour. Emotional labour requires a worker “to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others” (Hochschild 2003: 7). Yet often the workers’ outward displays of emotion conflict with what is felt inside and Hochschild shows through a case study of flight attendants that the requirement of positive emotional displays can result in flight attendants’ estrangement from their inner emotional state. Although Hochschild’s  theory of emotional labour stems from research in the service sector, emotional labour also sits at the core of doing academic research, and this is particularly so for qualitative, feminist and sensitive research approaches.


Little research has detailed the experiences of researchers who invest emotional labour in order to create a supportive environment for investigating sensitive topics.

Based on in-depth interview data on the topic of oöcyte and embryo donation with 20 female in vitro fertilisation patients, and extracts from my systematically recorded reflexive diary, this paper empirically examines my own emotional labour during the enactment of sensitive and feminist research methodologies. In this presentation I show that for some researchers who ‘do’ sensitive and feminist research, emotional labour may entail a foregrounding of the researcher’s emotional and biological self rather than estrangement.  Given that neither emotional labour nor a rapid foregrounding of a researcher’s own identity are easy to grapple with, I argue that sensitive research methodologists and advocates of feminist research approaches need to more adequately theorise the emotional labour performed by researchers and insert the value of emotional labour into future methodological debates.



Hochschild, A. (2003). The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkely,

University of California Press.