Emotional Compliance and Emotion as Resistance: Shame and Anger among the Long-Term Unemployed

Michelle Peterie*, Gaby Ramia, Greg Marston, Roger Patulny

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Contemporary governments employ a range of policy tools to ‘activate’ the unemployed to look for work. Framing unemployment as a consequence of personal shortcoming, these policies incentivise the unemployed to become ‘productive’ members of society. While Foucault’s governmentality framework has been used to foreground the operation of power within these policies, ‘job-seeker’ resistance has received less attention. In particular, forms of emotional resistance have rarely been studied. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 80 unemployed welfare recipients in Australia, this article shows that many unemployed people internalise activation’s discourses of personal failure, experiencing shame and worthlessness as a result. It also reveals, however, that a significant minority reject this framing and the ‘feeling rules’ it implies, expressing not shame but anger regarding their circumstances. Bringing together insights from resistance studies and the sociology of emotions, this article argues that ‘job-seeker’ anger should be recognised as an important form of ‘everyday resistance’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)794-811
Number of pages18
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number5
Early online date9 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

User-Defined Keywords

  • activation
  • anger
  • emotion
  • everyday resistance
  • feeling rules
  • governmentality
  • shame
  • stigma
  • unemployment
  • welfare


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