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Learning to labour with feeling: class, gender and emotion in childcare education and training

Colley, Helen (2006) Learning to labour with feeling: class, gender and emotion in childcare education and training. Contemporary issues in early childhood, 7 (1). pp. 15-29.

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Abstract

There is debate among early years experts about the appropriate degree of emotional engagement between nursery nurses and the children in their care. Through research into the learning cultures of further education (in the Economic and Social Research Council’s Teaching and Learning Research Programme), the author considers how prospective nursery nurses first learn to deploy emotion in their work. Few researchers have investigated the learning of feelings for caring occupations, and this article presents a detailed case study, based on both quantitative and qualitative data, of a group of childcare students throughout their two-year course. In analysing its official, unwritten, and hidden curricula, and the social practices of learning it entails, the author draws on feminist readings of Marx and Bourdieu to reveal how gendered and class-fractional positionings combine with vocational education and training to construct imperatives about ‘correct’ emotions in childcare. The author compares theorisations of emotional capital and emotional labour, and suggests we need social rather than individualised understandings of how feelings are put to work. The author concludes that emotional labour carries costs for the nursery nurse, not because children consume her emotional resources, but because her emotional labour power is controlled and exploited for profit by employers.

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