Emotion & Identity Politics in Palliative Care

seminar presented by Dr Rebecca Olson, University of Queensland

10am Thursday 21st May 2015

Paul Barratt Lecture Theatre, Psychology Building, UNE

All Welcome


A recent review article on the title ‘carer’ found it to be a ‘universal failure’: a title with which few family members identify (Molyneaux et al., 2011). Challenging this conclusion, research with spouses of cancer patients shows the carer identity to be relationally situated and dependent on emotionally meaningful interaction (Olson, 2015). In this presentation, I will explore the intersection between emotion and identity in the experiences of volunteer palliative care caregivers. Thematic analysis is based on focus groups facilitated with James Connor in 2014 involving 17 family and volunteer carers at two day hospices. Of particular theoretical interest is reconciling the ‘happiness’ and ‘rewarding’ emotions articulated by participants with the common sense notion of sadness and grief that often accompanies descriptions of hospice settings. Analysis indicates that the choice to (re)enter the palliative caregiving domain creates starkly different emotional experiences from those experienced by professional and family carers who are compelled to be involved. Catharsis was a key theme, with most participants having previously experienced often several roles as a primary carer. Drawing from Archer’s (2010) work on identity as a reflexive imperative and Hochschild’s (1983) work on emotion management, we begin to sketch a picture of volunteer caregiving as emotionally rewarding to a person for whom caregiving becomes a pillar of their identity and biography. The desire to re-engage the palliative setting, despite deeply emotional previous experiences, indicates a need to re-think caregiving identities.

Rebecca E. Olson is a Senior Lecturer in sociology at the University of Queensland. She earned her PhD in Sociology from the Australian National University and has previously held a lectureship in public health at the University of Western Sydney. She is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Sociology and co-convenor of the Australian Sociological Association's Sociology of Emotions and Affect Thematic Group. Her research interests lie at the juncture between emotion, health and sociology: caregiving, interprofessional education, emotion and affect.

Watch the seminar here