Unhappy Souls at Work: Subjective Narrations about Psychosocial Working Stress

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 11:10 AM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Stefanie GRAEFE , Department of Sociology, Friedrich-Schiller-Universitšt Jena, Jena, Germany
Since the end of the last century new types of work, employment and management have caused substantial changes in contemporary subjectivity. In the meantime, an increasing social consciousness about psychosocial problems caused by working stress can be observed. In public and media discourses, the „diseases of the soul“ are increasingly linked to flexibilized working and living conditions in late capitalism. On the other hand the reality of „the exhausted self“ (Ehrenberg) is questioned – at least in Germany – on the part of psychiatrists and employers’ associations. At the same time, the “psychomedicalization of the social” is gaining significance in almost every area of social reality.

In my research I aim to contrast these complex socio-discursive interpretation schemes with the subjective knowledge about psychosocial working stress people develop under flexibilized working conditions. I want to know how affected individuals themselves experience and interpret the experience of emotional stress caused by work. By conducting narrative interviews with persons from different working areas (education, health, industrial production, financial services) who have been suffering from incapacity to work due to psychological strain, the interpretive patterns in which this experience is subjectively framed are investigated. The analysis shows how and to what extent psychological vocabulary and interpretation schemes frame subjective interpretations of stressful working experiences – and that they are used in multifaceted and often creative ways, oscillating for example between criticism of working conditions on the one hand and an psychologically “informed” self-ascription of causes on the other. In my contribution I will explore the types of narration and implicit knowledge individuals concerned by working stress use in order to re-establish and/or maintain their personal and biographical agency.