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Work and Emotional Labour of Special Educators in Sri Lanka: A Case Study


With the effects of the ever-changing nature of socio-cultural and political sphere that we live in, the notion of work has gained much attention in a variety of fields of studies. The different concepts and expectations of and about work have influenced the way in which one conceives of the world of work. However, the concept of work in the field of ‘education’ is rather blurred in terms of what constitutes the contents of work. Hence, identifying what is meant by work for the educators, more specifically, work for special educators, has been recognised as vital to be explored. In this context, the main purpose of this study is to explore how the work is perceived by special educators and how they perform and manage emotional labour with regard to the work they engage in. This research uses a qualitative approach by adopting the case study method as the strategy of inquiry. One of the leading special education institutions in Sri Lanka was selected as the case site of the study. Data was generated via conducting semi structured interviews with ten (10) special educators in the said organisation. Besides, non-participant observations and photographs were incorporated to generate more rich data. The findings have revealed that there are different ways in which work is being perceived by the special educators. It comprises of economic, intrinsically motivated and obligatory orientations. In broader terms, most special educators perceive work as something meaningful while some of them perceive it as an unpleasant chore. Moving further, the study has found that special educators perform emotional work and emotional labour which involve positive and negative emotions in their day-to-day roles, and it is necessary to develop particular qualities that are needed to work with students with special needs. Ultimately, by incorporating the voice of the participants, the researcher has conceptualised work, as perceived by special educators, as the spine that structures the way they live through monetary terms, as how they make contact with social reality through comforting and inspiring others with no boundaries in space or time, as the way they believe as noble, as meaningful but with a sub-domain of unpleasant and as the way they achieve personal fulfilment and satisfaction. Accordingly, the findings of the research will assist policy makers to identify and execute different strategies to reduce the complexity and tediousness of the ‘work’ perceived by special educators and to enhance their emotional wellbeing while overcoming the negative outcomes of the emotions they experience in their jobs. It also provides many managerial implications for special educational institutions in managing the challenging work and powerful emotional demands.

Keywords: Special Educators, Notion of Work, Emotional Labour