Justifying the Authentic Self. Swedish Public Service Workers Talking About Work Stress


  • Elin K. Thunman Uppsala University
  • Marcus P. Persson Mälardalen University




stress, public service workers, interview, narrative analysis, accounts, authenticity, public service ethos


This study is based on in-depth interviews with 28 Swedish public service workers. With the help of narrative analysis, we explore how the workers use language to explain their subjective experiences of work stress. Based on a three-level typology, this article examines: 1. the narrative elements in the workers' talk about their stress; 2. the narrative strategies they use in positioning or presenting themselves as "stressed"; and 3. the function of the narratives in a societal context. The study shows the following main results: 1. the workers express feelings of shame when talking about their experiences of work stress; 2. they use justifying accounts, e.g. accepting responsibility for becoming ill; and 3. it is suggested that the public service workers' justifications reflect societal demands of being authentic and true to personal values, and that the dominating expressed value is about a public service ethos.

URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1501130


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Author Biographies

Elin K. Thunman, Uppsala University

Elin THUNMAN (PhD) works as a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Uppsala University, Sweden. Her main research interest is the consequences of societal and organizational changes for the individual's identity and health. Currently she is working on a study about management-oriented reforms in public organisations and professionals' experiences of everyday encounters, stressful dilemmas, self-realization and authenticity.

Marcus P. Persson, Mälardalen University

Marcus PERSSON received his PhD from Lund University, Sweden in sociology in 2007. Since then he has worked both in academia and in the telecom industry as well as in public broadcasting. He currently holds a position as a researcher at Mälardalen University, Sweden, where he is involved in several research projects about the use of information and communication technologies and robotics within education, work life, and health care, in relation to identity processes and people's doing of boundary work between private and public domains.




How to Cite

Thunman, E. K., & Persson, M. P. (2015). Justifying the Authentic Self. Swedish Public Service Workers Talking About Work Stress. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-16.1.2158



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