Social Work Specialists in Russia: Standardization of Feelings and Moral Mission of Social Assistance

Sunday, 10 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 6A P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Olga SIMONOVA, National Research University - Higher School of economics, Russia
The paper is based on an analysis of the 50 semi-formalized interviews with social work specialists in six Russian regions in the framework of the research project “Professional culture of social workers: methodology of social and anthropological research (case of social work specialists)”. Following A.R. Hochschild we distinguish the notions of emotion work and emotional labour in order to clarify the experience of social work specialists. Social work specialists pointed out that their work required a complicated psychological attunement to communicate with “clients”, which were representatives of the disadvantaged groups. That attunement includes emotion work like the expression of empathy and sympathy, the ability to maintain positive state of mind and to resolve conflicts. With that emotional labour in this field is still emerging, because an emotional labour is standardized part of the profession, paid emotion work performed according to clear rules formalized in professional code. From the opinion of the respondents people underestimate the complexity of their mission, do not notice that they spend their own feelings, and that this work is fraught with emotional burnout. Then they insisted on the necessity of the professionalization of the emotions – standardization of emotion work – in order to reduce stress at the workplace. Although social work specialists regard the emotion management as an integral part of the profession, they experience the emotional problems. Therefore they thought they performed the important moral mission to take care of the socially vulnerable groups. They have no clear rules of emotion management, which they usually take from the general emotional culture instead of “specialized professional emotional ideology”. This case reflects the shifts in the professional culture of social workers and the very process of professionalization of social work in Russia.