Abercromby Square

“I try to remember it’s not really about me, even the death threats.” Feelings of distrust, emotional labour and mental health in political office

3:30pm - 5:00pm / Thursday 12th May 2022
Type: Seminar / Category: Research
  • Admission: This is a free event. Please register via the Eventbrite link provided for the Zoom Link
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James Weinberg (University of Sheffield)

Abstract: This paper focuses on the relationship between distrust, emotional labour and mental ill-health in political office. In their nine-part theoretical framework of stressors in political work, Flinders et al. (2018, pp.5-6) highlight the potentially destructive impact of working in a low-trust, high-blame environment. At the same time, recent research has also shown correlational links between false-face acting in politics and symptoms of occupational burnout such as exhaustion, pessimism and stress (Weinberg, 2020). In this paper, I treat the ‘distrust’ and ‘emotional labour’ stressors as interrelated rather than discrete, insofar as feelings of being distrusted may heighten politicians’ propensity towards false-face acting and thus increase the likelihood of poor mental wellbeing. These propositions are tested using new survey and interview data collected from politicians in the UK, Canada and South Africa. Participants completed a 24-item battery of felt trust and distrust, an 8-item battery of emotional labour, and the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9). Descriptive and inferential analysis of the quantitative data is complemented by thematic analysis of interview transcripts. Together, these analyses show that the aforementioned stressors are prevalent and ultimately detrimental features of political work. This research fills a gap in running debates about the ‘health’ of democracy and speaks to an empirical blind spot in the analysis of parliamentary politics.

Bio: Dr James Weinberg is Lecturer in Political Behaviour at the University of Sheffield. He currently holds a Leverhulme early career fellowship to conduct research about political in an age of distrust. His research on topics such as political ambition, political wellbeing, and civic education has been published in a range of high-quality peer reviewed journals like the British Journal of Political Science and in a recent monograph published with Bristol University Press. James is also an elected trustee of the UK Political Studies Association and a community governor at a local school in Sheffield. He started his career as a qualified secondary school teacher in West London.