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Bending the rules of "professional" display: emotional improvisation in caregiver performances

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Organizational norms of emotional expression are open to negotiation through improvised performances, as employees may bend or break emotion rules to gain more leeway in expressiveness and participate in the development of their own role identities in the workplace. In this ethnographic study, a dramaturgical perspective is used to analyze the processes and outcomes of emotional improvisation as observed among nurses, technicians, and physicians in a cardiac care center. It was found that the emphasis on maintaining a "professional" appearance in caregiving largely constrains actors to perform along their scripted roles. Results are discussed in terms of practical implications for training/education for health care providers and recipients. This study complements Goffman's (1959, 1961) emphasis on external role-playing by considering actors' internal feelings in relationship to observable emotional displays.

Keywords: Organizational emotionality; emotion rules; emotional improvisation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Communication Studies at the University of Northern Iowa 2: Department of Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Publication date: November 1, 2001


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