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Emotion and Identity

This research focuses on the way in which emotions are managed, utilised, performed and presented in occupational roles and contexts.Particular emphasis is on those who carry out work that can be conceptualised as being on the “emotional margins”. This work uses, arguably, extreme cases of emotionality at work to highlight the complex, subtle and nuanced emotional architecture of many occupational contexts and individual identities. Sites of research have included funeral directors, GP receptionists, music producers, Samaritans, care home workers, veterinarians and the police. Access and understanding these contexts and job roles has been a product of productive working relationships with various researchers in other disciplines in particular human geography.

Our current work focuses on a variety of marginalised emotional labour constructs such as antipathetic emotional labour and emotional neutrality.

Breaking out of the disciplinary silos so entrenched in emotion research, we take a cross-disciplinary reading of emotional labour that has allowed us to identify gaps, commonality and synergies in the field. 

Additionally, we undertake research into the construction and re-construction of identity. To date research in this are has focused on studies of leader identities in the gas and oil industry and academics in managerial roles in higher education.This research group has a strong focus on pushing boundaries in terms of research methods. We have experience of utilising traditional qualitative and quantative methods but are continually pursuing alternative, often arts-based or creative methods to help us more usefully explore the lived experience of those whose lives, works and emotions we study.

Research Highlight

Findings from a three-year ethnographic study of general practice, suggest that as a first-point-of-contact in the English health care system GP receptionists are called upon to perform complex forms of emotion management pursuant to facilitating efficacious care.  Two new emotion management techniques are identified: 1) emotional neutrality, and 2) emotion switching, indicating a need to extend emotion management research beyond core occupations, while at the same time reconsidering the variety and complexity of the techniques used by ancillary workers.

This article published in Social Science & Medicine has received attention from a variety of sources:

The New York Times article was entitled ‘Giving Medical Receptionists Their Due’ and was published on June 30th 2011. This sparked a considerable discussion both on the newspapers’ website but was also extended to other sites and blogs including: AAPC Physician’s Services USA – ‘Have you thanked your receptionist today?’ (6th July 2011); Occupational Digest – ‘Switching, empathising and staying neutral: the emotional labour of GP receptionists’ (31st May 2011); Fierce Practice Management – ‘Receptionists take on the brunt of patient’s emotions’ (6th July 2011); Anthem Education Group - ‘Medical Receptionists Get Respect!’ (27th July 2011); The Daily Mail - ‘There is a good reason why GP receptionists are so grumpy’ 13th September (2011).

This research has shaped social understandings of the role GP receptionists play in primary care delivery. The interest shown by AAPC Physicians and the Occupational Digest also demonstrates the potential these findings have in appealing to medical practitioners, health management specialists, the NHS and other health service providers, both nationally and internationally.

Selected Outputs


Ward, J., Knight, V. & Stamper, C. (in review) Television: a fissure in the emotional architecture of prison life, Theoretical Criminology Ward,

J. & Shortt, H. (forthcoming) ‘Drawing’, In Ann Cunliffe (ed.) Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for Business and Management, London:Sage

Ward, J. & Watson, A. (forthcoming) ‘FX, Drugs and Rock n Roll: the emotional labour of recording engineers, In Gareth Dylan-Smith and Roger Mantie (eds) Oxford Handbook of Music Making and Leisure, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Ward, J. & McMurray, R. (2016) The Dark Side of Emotional Labour, Routledge: Abingdon

Edwards, G., Ward.J., Schedlitzki, D., & Wood, M. (2015) Exploring Critical Perspectives of Toxic and Bad Leadership through Film, Advances in Developing Human Resources, 17(3): 363-375

McMurray, R. & Ward, J. (2014) ‘Why would you want to do that?’: Defining emotional dirty work, Human Relations, doi: 10.1177/0018726714525975

Watson, A. & Ward, J. (2013) Creating the right vibe: emotional labour and musical performance in the recording studio, Environment and Planning A, 45:2904-2918

Ward, J. & Shortt, H. (2013) Evaluation in Higher Education: A visual approach to drawing out emotion in student learning, Management Learning, 44(5):435-452

Ward, J. & McMurray, R. (2011) The unspoken work of GP receptionists: a re-examination of emotion management in primary care, Social Science and Medicine, 72(10):1583-1587


Dr Deborah Price (

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