Arlie Russell Hochschild’s concept of emotional labour has been applied extensively in the analysis of the emotional, relational and identity processes in a wide variety of service occupations, and to a lesser extent to caring occupations where the central goal is nurturing. It has featured infrequently in social care in general and has not featured significantly in academic debates in Ireland. The paper is based on a small qualitative study of social care workers in harm reduction [HR] day services in the Dublin region. The aim of the research study was to explore how emotional labour impacts on workers employed in day harm reduction services. The paper highlights the centrality of emotional labour in negotiating and managing a sense of professionalism and personal space within a highly stressful area of social care. The workers’ emotional labour involved a process of embodying professionalism, an empathic alertness in their relations with service users, emotional distancing from traumatic experiences, and developing caring spaces in personal and professional life. By considering the emotional labour of care workers, we can better understand the construction of identity within particular contexts. The research raises questions about the status of Harm Reduction and other emotional workers, the sufficiency of the knowledge base for practitioners, and important issues about how to develop and organise caring workplaces.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.