Shaping Professional Bodies and Emotions: Male and Female Students in Midwifery and Social Work Schools in France

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:32
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Alice OLIVIER, Sciences Po/INED, Paris, France
Because they imply quasi-permanent physical interactions with users, midwifery and social work are two occupations in which professionals' bodies play a key role (Dubois, 2010) and which call for a significant emotional labor (Hochschild, 1983). In this paper, I focus on the consequences this has on students in midwifery and social work study tracks: how do the institutional discourses and practices shape their bodies and emotions as a central element of their education (Becker et al., 2003)? How does this contribute to (re)producing inequalities between male and female students (Boni, 2013)?

Drawing on 120 interviews (students, teachers, internship supervisors) and 400 hours of observations (classes, internships, student sociability...) conducted in two midwifery and two social work schools in France, I develop my analysis in three points:

  • I compare the ways in which students’ bodies and emotions are educated in these two tracks. Because they are both highly feminized and require competences seen as “natural” to women, students are encouraged to express “feminine” emotions such as empathy and tenderness. They are however discouraged to develop “too feminine” body characteristics such as wearing strong make-up or figure-accentuating clothes. There is nonetheless an important difference in the ways they are asked to present themselves to users: midwifery students are educated to become exchangeable health professionals while social work students are pushed to become personalized interlocutors. 
  • I show next how the few male students are considered in this process: being encouraged to develop their “manly” physical and moral assets, they are given better learning opportunities than their female counterparts, which contributes to a “glass escalator” process (Williams, 1992).
  • Finally, I present the resistances developed by a few male and female students against this shaping of their bodies and emotions. I analyze how these can contribute to redefining the study tracks and, therefore, the professions.