"I'm a Professional Beauty Specialist, Not Just a Simple Beautician." the Discourse of Professionalism and Its Function Among Body Workers.

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Irmgard STECKDAUB-MULLER, Institut für Soziologie, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen Nürnberg, Germany
l’m a Professional Beauty Specialist, not just a simple beautician!

The discourse of professionalism and its function among body workers.

The body service work sector has been growing and diversifying continuously over the last four decades due to a changed perception of the body as a ‘high-maintenance’-project and ‘somatic capital’ (Turner 1982) for the employable self. The boom not only generated a variety of beauty services but also a heterogenous labour market with many jobs that don’t require any vocational training and/or approved license, such as tattooing, naildesign, piercing. However, body work is ‘high-touch’ service work (Mc Dowell 2009) and consists of the product and the procedure itself, which requires a professional framing, emotion work and communicational competences. Therefore, the lack of institutionalized capital and the demands of this “front-line”- service work raise the question about the body worker’s professional self-understanding and perception of their work. The analysis of narrative interviews with male and female hairdressers, tattooists, beauty therapists, piercers and nail designers of different age, national and social background on their work biography and work experiences plus ethnographic studies reveal that the discourse of ‘professionalism’ serves as a main category for the construction of their professional identity: Beauty service workers understand themselves as ‘professionals’ by referring to their expertise, high hygienic standards and the level of technical skills. They compare these challenges with (classic) professions such as doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists thus emphasizing the professionalism of their work. The lack of institutionalized capital is compensated with certificates and awards from courses, competitions and conventions, which count as qualifications thus marking expertise and distinction against ‘others’ in the field. Furthermore, by evaluating ‘professional work’ and contrasting it against ‘bad / unprofessional work’ body workers define criteria and norms of ‘professionalism’, which implies the exclusion of ‘others’ within their professional field.