Chameleons In A Kaleidoscope: How it Feels to Work in Partnership as a Sure Start Manager

Kara, Helen (2006). Chameleons In A Kaleidoscope: How it Feels to Work in Partnership as a Sure Start Manager. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines some ways in which the emotional experience of Sure Start managers can be understood using story methodology.

Sure Start was a partnership initiative introduced by New Labour in 1999 to support families with children aged 0-4 in areas of deprivation. Data was constructed using fictional stories about how it feels to work in partnership, told and used as a basis for discussion in peer groups.

Interpretation of the data suggested that Sure Start managers use discretion and judgement in the workplace to manage their own emotions and the emotions of others. However, their choices in doing this appear to be limited by the prevailing power structures. These include the lack of a professional emotional vocabulary, which effectively silences work related emotion talk. The managers resist these limitations by finding 'unmanageable spaces' (Gabriel 2003) to share stories about their work in personal language. This helps them to make sense of their emotional experiences.

This research found that Sure Start managers needed to draw on a wide emotional range to create convincing emotional performances at work. This enriches the conceptualisation of emotional labour in the emotion literature, and offers performance as a new theme for the partnership literature. Initial suggestions for links between specific emotional responses and themes in the partnership literature offer a new area for exploration within that literature. The distinction between professional languages and personal language enhances the account of the relationship between emotion and language in the emotion literature.

Despite the limitations on them, Sure Start managers are evidently skilful, resourceful 'emotion entrepreneurs'. However, it seems that the marginalisation of emotion in their working environment is likely to be detrimental to the well-being of the managers, their staff, and their service users. This has implications for the policy and practice of managing public sector partnerships.

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